, Food 101How To Spot – And Start To Give Up – Processed Foods

How To Spot – And Start To Give Up – Processed Foods

First and foremost, I hope that you’re sticking to your guns and doing your best to avoid fast food restaurants. If you’ve resolved to commit to this yesterday, I hope that you’re better prepared today with fruits, vegetables, enjoyable snacks, maybe even a healthy salad, to keep you on track. If you fell short yesterday (or any day, for that matter) then take a moment to read this and then this… take a deep breath, and resolve again today. Just don’t give up.

Now… down to business.

A cornerstone of clean eating is limiting your intake of processed foods. What are processed foods? Anything that has to endure a process in order to come to you the way that you receive it. If you have a box of Cinnamon Life Charms Choco Crisp Spacks Crunch on top of your fridge, that’s processed. White bread? Processed. “Smooth” peanut butter? Processed. Sodapop? Orange Juice? Soy milk? Processed. Flour (yes, of any kind)? Processed. Baby carrots? Processed. As you can see, it can get complicated.. that’s why you limit your intake as opposed to cutting everything. Sometimes, that’s simply not possible. (I’m realistic, here.)

For a food to endure a process, more often than not this means that an outside chemical has been introduced to the item. This can be anything from the chlorine your cute little baby carrots were soaked in before they were packaged to the avalanche of ingredients in your white bread. It can be the three kinds of salt – yes, three – in your box of scalloped potatoes… or the powdered cheesy product that you mix with water (or milk, you can get jazzy on it!) to make the “cheese” that coats your macaroni noodles. It can even be that big giant block of cheese you use to make your “macaroni and cheese from scratch.” It doesn’t seem so “from scratch” when you look at it that way, does it?

One of the largest problems with processed foods is the fact that there’s a small handful of ingredients that can be found in all of them. They’re usually very high-carb items. Why? Because that “small handful of ingredients that can be found in all” processed foods are purely carbs. Processed carbs. They’re also the cheapest and most readily available ingredients, as well.

Please never forget that these processed foods are created by businesses that have profit margins to protect, here. In order to provide you with seemingly inexpensive items and still make money, they’ve got to use cheap ingredients. So don’t be surprised by the fact that many of the fast foods that you’re abstaining from this week are made with these same ingredients. Profits are important. That’s just how business works. Health is secondary, sorry to say.

Processed carbohydrates are problematic because the process that they go through in order to be box/can/plastic-wrapping-ready calls for the valuable part of the carb to be removed: the fiber. The part that not only helps you to feel full, but helps you to empty your system to make room for more food, has been pulled out. (No, really – if you have a lot of processed foods in your kitchen, take a look and see how much fiber you find inside.) The fiber is removed from the product because fiber can’t withstand all that time on the shelf. Think of how long the truly fibrous foods – the fruits and veggies – tend to last in your home. Beyond a week or so? They don’t.

When you enter your favorite supermarket, where do you head first? Do you walk to either your direct left or right toward the produce, or do you head for an aisleway? I can assure you, if you’re heading for an aisleway, you’re headed for the processed foods. Unprocessed foods, specifically your produce and meats, are always stored on the outermost walls of the grocery. They have a tendency to spoil if not refridgerated, and the best place to house the refridgerators is the walls of the store. Produce, by default, just gets stuck in a corner somewhere usually near the frozen foods or deli.

If something as innocent as baby carrots and peanut butter can count as a processed food, how do you know what to limit?

Start with the ingredient list. Almost every processed food originated from a traditional recipe – which means it should be easily created in your home – so that means the ingredient list should look like a traditional recipe without the cup/teaspoon/tablespoon amounts… right? Do you keep monosodium glutamate in your house? (I know there’s the random person out there who does.. and really – no, really – shouldn’t.) How about fructooligosaccharides? Do you keep that on deck? If it contains ingredients that you couldn’t keep on hand in your kitchen, leave it be.

Avoid the magic potions. If it has a “just add water!!111!1!1!1” label on it, leave it be. A problem with processed food is the fact that it usually disintegrates into what it originated from after you ingest it… only to revert back to a congealed blob once digested… a blob that leaves you constipated and angry. No thanks. So if I buy a box of scalloped potatoes (if you notice, I’m always talking about scalloped potatoes) or mashed potatoes, and they come with a powderto mix with water… where’s the cheese? Where’s the butter? For crying out loud, why do my potatoes look like hard freeze dried chips? All I have to do is “add water” and I, too, can have magical scalloped potatoes? Child, please – you wouldn’t buy that spiel on an infomercial, would you? Don’t let your hunger manipulate you into falling for the “magic potion.”

If the flies don’t want it… you don’t want it. Humans are supposed to compete with animals (including flies) for resources. We also have the mental ability to win these competitions. The reason I mention this is because we’re attracted to the same foods for the same reasons. Flies are attracted to our meat, our fruit, our plants because they are nourishing. There are nutrients within those items. If you go to a grocery store,you don’t see flies in the aisles. You see them in the produce. That’s where you should be. You might have to swat a fly or two off of your tomato… but please believe that’s a victory worth winning. (Hippie moment?)

The reality is, you want your foods to come to you as untouched as possible, as light on the chemical interference as possible and as desirable as possible. So yes, friend – that means you’re going to have to embrace those fruits and – heaven and Earth, help you – those veggies. But how on Earth do I eat vegetables? I hate those! Stay tuned for tomorrow’s Q&A Wednesday!

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By | 2017-06-10T11:45:19+00:00 May 24th, 2013|Clean Eating Boot Camp, Food 101|39 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.


  1. Maitai August 10, 2010 at 11:41 AM - Reply

    So many processed foods it makes your head spin. I’m trying to do better with this though. Is instant oatmeal processed?

    • Erika August 10, 2010 at 11:47 AM - Reply

      Instant? VERY. The powdered flavoring, the “dried fruit that aren’t really dried nor fruit”…. all very processed. 🙁

      • Marquita September 9, 2012 at 6:18 PM - Reply

        🙁 ….not the instant oatmeal!

  2. Juqweis August 10, 2010 at 12:17 PM - Reply

    How about couscous that comes in a box, frozen vegetables and certain broths are they processed. This is hard, it seems impossible!!

    • Erika August 10, 2010 at 12:54 PM - Reply

      Don’t unnecessarily limit yourself! Frozen veggies are okay – I have some myself! Couscous that doesn’t come with a “flavor pouch” with flavored powder in it is okay!

      Broths are a little iffy. They usually have way too much salt, and their flavoring tends to come from “natural flavors.” Broth is VERY easy to make… I’ll go and post the recipe to make one right now.

    • Molly March 18, 2011 at 12:46 PM - Reply

      I think when it comes to things that come in packages, the advice about reading the ingredients list is best. There are some things (like couscous) that you really can’t find out of a box in many locations. Only hip health food stores carry stuff like that in a bin.

  3. Serenity23 August 10, 2010 at 12:19 PM - Reply

    I plan to join the challenge. What about brown rice and wheat bread? And does this mean no meat?

    • Erika August 10, 2010 at 12:56 PM - Reply

      Brown rice is fine.

      The bread might be iffy. Look carefully at your list of ingredients… does your bread contain “high fructose corn syrup?” Does it contain “enriched flour?” There are a small handful of wheat breads that do not contain those ingredients… shoot for those.

  4. Cjbrownsc August 10, 2010 at 12:29 PM - Reply

    I’m going to have to throw everything away and start all over if I want to get my family on the clean eating bandwagon. My cabinet is full of canned goods and instant potatoes, etc. This mainly stems from me not knowing how to cook from ‘scratch’. But I’ve always wanted to learn so this may be the stimulus I need to get it going.

  5. J August 10, 2010 at 12:49 PM - Reply

    I read your blog daily because I am constantly learning something.

    I never even knew about the processing of baby carrots. I just naively believed that’s the way they were harvested. Thanks again for shedding light on the food industry.

    Is there any harm in frozen sliced carrots?

    • Erika August 10, 2010 at 12:57 PM - Reply

      Other than the fact that they’re unnecessarily expensive, considering how I can buy a batch of carrots for $0.50 and slice ’em myself with a grater? I am not currently aware. LOL

  6. Tiffany R. Paige August 10, 2010 at 1:13 PM - Reply

    Thank you so much for this. Limiting my processed food intake with be the hardest step for me.

  7. Pearl August 10, 2010 at 1:24 PM - Reply

    Love your blog… thank you for all the time and effort you put into it. Re-education is under way on this front!!! Yikes!

  8. Pepi August 10, 2010 at 2:09 PM - Reply

    OMG!!! My head is totally spinning! Thank you so much for this. I’ve been eating clean for a few months now (for me that means if it did not come from the earth-it won’t go in me)!!! Can you explain a little more about the soy milk if possible and what about almond milk! I don’t do soy at all (personal preference), but, have recently started using a little almond milk! Sharing your blog on FB with all my friends.

    • Erika August 10, 2010 at 3:02 PM - Reply

      I have my original findings about soy, and because I’m pretty strict about not speaking without being able to 100% validate my feelings with research… I don’t want to go in on soy. I hope you can understand that… just know that I absolutely avoid it at all costs.

      I dooooooooooo love my almond milk, though. LOL. To me, it’s the least of the evils. We only use it for my little one’s cereal and the occasional smoothie. At approx $3-4 a piece, I’m not trying to be drinking that all day. LOL

  9. aisha August 10, 2010 at 4:18 PM - Reply

    There always seem to be Almond Milk coupons so I’ve never paid full price. I did have to watch certain brands because they contained a lot of extra sugar. Also in the Vegan Soul Cooking book there is recipe for almond milk. It’s simply Almonds blended with water. I haven’t tried it yet. But let’s talk about unproccessed cheese. Are we talking about cheeses that just have milk and maybe come salt? Are we only to use cheese that has a rind on it? Besides the cheeses that literraly say “processed cheese food” are there others we should avoid?

    • Erika August 10, 2010 at 4:45 PM - Reply

      Cheese is iffy… but rest assured that if it says “processed cheese food” on it, its a bad idea.

      Because it can come in so many different forms – block cut, pie slice, wax-coated – I don’t want to say something that will inadvertently cut out good cheese. Think more in terms of what you need to learn to avoid, not what you should eat. Creating a rubric for what to avoid leaves you options to explore… creating a list of what to eat is just too limiting, I think.

      Use your better judgment – and if you don’t trust your judgment, better start now – you’ll know a problem food when you feel it.

      • Pat Rice November 5, 2012 at 8:14 PM - Reply

        What about those processed healthy foods like “Kashi”? They all taste like cardboard anyway. 7 whole grains that taste like nothing! Any thoughts on the so called healthy foods that come prepackaged?

        • Erika Nicole Kendall November 6, 2012 at 11:40 AM - Reply

          But, mama… if it tastes like cardboard, why bother suffering through it? It doesn’t matter if it’s “healthy” if it tastes like garbage. 🙁

          There’s healthy and cardboard, rice cake-esque… but there’s also healthy and “delicious,” and you’ve got to find out what excites your taste buds without making you want to binge or making you unhealthy.

  10. S August 10, 2010 at 4:43 PM - Reply

    WOW…that is all I can say. I was so surprised (and a bit hurt) that my “cute little baby carrots” had some work done. I have gradually been moving in this direction over the past few months. It is a bit challenging especially when I don’t plan ahead. But I feel really great when I have had a full day of good clean eating. The one great thing I can say is I have definitely been stepping outside of my box to try different things.
    I am looking forward to the challenge!

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