Replacing Packaged Foods with Healthy Alternatives
When you walk into a supermarket, it is common to feel like Charlie in the Chocolate Factory. Shelf upon the shelf, row upon row and aisle upon aisle are filled with food items in shiny, eye-catching colors, just calling out to you to buy them. You will have a hard time choosing between so many attractive options. The end result is that you buy what you never intended to buy, and then consume to prevent waste of your money. It is easy to forget that all that glitters is not gold. Packaged/Junk foods are marketed in a way to make consumers go by face value and advertiser claims. However, processed foods are known to do the exact opposite of what they claim. They can do a lot of harm to your body and overall health. More and more people are today cutting packaged foods out of their diet altogether.
So what exactly is processed or packaged/Junk foods?
Food processing is an ancient tradition. All over the world, people used to save food grown in farming months so that they had something to eat during the winter months or when food became scarce. India too has a rich history of preserves, pickles, dried meat and other recipes that used natural ingredients such as salt, vinegar or oil to preserve food. The thing is, these processes never altered the food item too much, and neither did they lead to nutrient loss from the food. The industrial revolution changed the way food was stored and consumed. Where earlier there used to be a direct channel from the farm, to the store, to the consumer’s table, now an entire industry inserted itself into the process. These new food items emerging from the factory floor were so altered that they had very little in common with the raw material from which they were made. Much of their nutrients were stripped away, and a whole lot of preservatives and chemicals were added to make the food taste better and have a longer shelf life. These are modern packaged or processed foods. This eating out of packets has become the norm in most Western countries. Whichever new country imports this food lifestyle, the ill effects become immediately obvious in the population. A whole new range of diseases come with the change from natural to packaged – diabetes, high blood pressure, impaired digestion, anxiety. In addition, quitting packaged foods is no easy task. In the fast-paced world, it is much more convenient for the consumer to simply open a packet, heat in the microwave and eat, rather than prepare a healthy meal from scratch. Studies confirm that the additives in packaged foods are addictive, and quitting them cause withdrawal symptoms similar to those experienced when people try to quit alcohol or smoking. So we can agree that packaged foods are trying to ruin our health.
What is so bad about packaged foods?
- They are mostly junk – Packaged foods are very low in nutrient content. On the other hand, they are very high in all elements which damage the human body: soy, which messes with your hormones, an excess of sugar, transfats which are deadly for your heart, refined ingredients, artificial substances, and chemicals and overloaded with carbohydrates. All of this is very bad news for your health.
- They are designed to addict you – A wise man once said – “the human tongue is a beast few can control”. Nothing proves this more right than packaged foods. They are created with preservatives, texture, colorants, and flavors, all designed to make them lip smackingly yummy. You simply keep coming back to them again and again regardless of whether you want to or not and regardless of whether it is good for you or not.
- They tend to slowly but surely burn a hole in your pocket – At first glance, it might seem that you are saving money on food by buying a cheap, pre-processed meal that you can simply de-freeze and eat. However, over a period of time, the health effects start piling up. Packaged foods are the single largest cause of obesity in the world. Obesity comes with a host of bonus problems, and you end up spending far more on health issues.
- They mess with your metabolism – The body digests packaged foods faster, and the energy produced is released suddenly into your bloodstream. This gives you a sudden burst of power. However, this power also fades very quickly after. This means that you experience incredible energy highs and lows whenever you eat packaged foods. To keep the energy high, you need to keep on eating unhealthy food. Healthy food, on the other hand, is digested much more slowly and releases its energy and nutrients in a slow-paced manner. A good healthy meal can keep you satiated for much longer.
Are all packaged foods bad for you?
Some foods require packaging to make them fit for human consumption or for additional benefits. Examples of these are:
- Dry fruits – Prunes, raisins, dried figs, dried dates, and dried apricots tend to have a higher nutrient content per gram than their fresh versions.
- Milk – Milk needs to be pasteurized to remove harmful pathogens.
- Frozen vegetables and fruits – These items, when they are frozen and canned without any additional preservatives soon after harvesting, tend to have a higher concentration of nutrients. This also ensures that your favorite food items are available year long.
Which packaged foods are bad for you?
- Sugary drinks – These include not only sodas but also supposedly fresh fruit juices. They contain abnormal amounts of sugar that negate any healthy nutrients they might have.
- White starch – These include white bread, pasta, pizza, cookies, all of which are converted to simple carbohydrates. These go a long way in making you put on weight.
- Vegetable oils – Refined oils such as soybean oil, canola oil, and palm oil are very high in Omega-6 fatty acids. They cause oxidation in the body when consumed. Oxidation produces free radicals which damage our DNA and regenerative capacities. They are linked to the higher occurrence of cancers.
- Snacks – French fries, ice cream, candy, chocolates, potato chips, etc.
- Highly processed foods.
- Fast food meals and ready to eat foods. These tend to be high in sodium, sugar, fats, or all three.
- Packaged meat, cheese, and fish.
What are some alternatives to packaged foods?
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole wheat bread
- Unrefined cereals such as brown rice
- Fresh salads
- Freshly squeezed juices
- Homemade yogurt
Nowadays, it is expensive to make healthy choices. Packaged foods or junk foods are cheaper compared to healthier alternatives. This doesn’t mean that you should give up hope. A little planning goes a long way. Research on farmers markets near you where you can get fresh produce. Switch to healthier snacks and simply stop buying anything, not on your grocery list. Keep a food diary where you can note down any unhealthy choices you made. This will motivate you to do better in the future. Take back your control of what you feed your body.
Good luck and a healthy, happy life to you!