By now most of us have heard that eating processed foods can be bad for our health, but with our busy schedules and fast paced lives, cooking meals from whole foods is often easier said than done. We have all found ourselves at some point in time, giving in to the ease of serving packaged muffins for breakfast or heating up a frozen pizza for dinner. When it seems that nearly all foods are processed in one form or another (The Department Of Agriculture defines processed foods as any raw agricultural commodities that have been washed, cleaned, milled, cut, chopped, heated, pasteurized, blanched, cooked, canned, frozen, dried, dehydrated, mixed or packaged — anything done to them that alters their natural state) how unhealthy can processed foods actually be?
It turns out that there are varying levels of processed foods and not all processed foods are as equally unhealthy for us. Minimally processed foods such as fruits and vegetables that have been washed and prepared to sell in a store are of course, still considered a healthy choice. However foods that have been significantly altered with additives like preservatives and food coloring are much more harmful. In fact, a study recently published in The British Medical Journal links the consumption of ultra-processed foods to a rise in heart disease and cancer. As the report identifies, “Most ultra-processed foods are made, sold, and promoted by corporations, typically transnational, that formulate them to be convenient (ready to consume), affordable (low cost ingredients), and hyper-palatable, and thus liable to displace other foods and also to be over-consumed.” Since it seems processed foods permeate almost every aisle of the grocery store, how are we supposed to make healthy choices for ourselves and our families?
To help simplify and make sense of all the information on ultra-processed foods we turned to Scarsdale nutritionist Christine Jones-Howard, RDN, CDN. Ms. Jones-Howard is a Registered Dietitian who is passionate about eating and moving for optimum health and enjoys sharing achievable, practical nutrition and movement strategies with her clients. She can also provide recipes and shortcuts for healthy meals to minimize processed foods. Furthermore, Ms. Jones-Howard counsels her clients on: Weight Loss/Management, IBS, SIBO, IBD, Reflux, Celiac Disease, Sports Nutrition, Heart Disease, Diabetes, Hypertension, PMS. PCOS and menopause. Ms. Jones-Howard graciously answered the following questions:
Q: What foods are considered ultra processed?
J-H: Ultra processed foods are foods that have several ingredients added to them like sodium, emulsifiers, fats, sugars and additives. Some examples of ultra processed foods are hot pockets, hot dogs, some frozen meals, protein shakes, packaged baked goods, soft drinks and fast food.
Q: Are less processed foods O.K. to eat?
J-H: Yes, less processed foods are fine to eat. They include canned foods like tomatoes, beans, tuna.
Q: What should consumers look for on labels?
J-H: Consumers should avoid processed foods with high amounts of sodium, added sugar, food dyes and hydrogenated fats.
Q: What are some healthy alternatives to processed snacks?
J-H: Alternative snacks:
Plain Greek yogurt with fruit, nuts and seeds
Cottage cheese with fruit and nuts
Hummus with carrots
Q: What is your suggested diet for an average person?
J-H: I like to recommend that people challenge themselves to include more fruits and vegetables into their diet. They should also consume appropriate portions of lean protein at least 3 times a day. In my sessions I customize tips based on the client’s preferences and lifestyle. This typically includes whole foods and lightly processed foods.
Since people with different genders, sizes, ages and activity levels need different things, I can’t give you specifics, but every meal should include fruits/vegetables, a small to moderate serving of high fiber carbohydrates and a small to moderate serving of a lean protein. I provide specific meal compositions to people once I’ve evaluated them.
It’s best to minimize the processed meats to once a week or once every two weeks. Being as varied as possible is really the best for health. So sandwiches one day, salads with chicken, fish or hard boiled eggs on other days and maybe a nice chili or curry dish on another day.
For more information on how to avoid ultra-processed foods and adopt a healthier, whole-food diet please see www.nutritionistforhealth.com or follow Ms. Jones-Howard’s food adventures at https://www.instagram.com/cjoneshoward.rdn/
Even armed with all of this information, it can still be a struggle to find the time to shop for and prepare healthy meals all week long. Some Scarsdale families have turned to meal delivery services who make eating healthily a whole lot easier. Here are a couple local establishments that come highly recommended:
Not only does Estelle Gourmet provide a weekly meal service, she also offers cooking classes where students learn to cook classic french recipes.
In addition to weekly Family Dinners, Danny’s Catering also offers single dinner delivery service.