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!

Show a little love by voting for me in the Black Weblog Awards for Best Health or Wellness Blog category! That’s right – BGG2WL is a finalist thanks to you! Let’s do what we can to bring it home!