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Finding Unprocessed Foods: Examples & Supermarket Tips

Do you enjoy grocery shopping? For many people, the answer is no. Considering the overwhelming amount of options, crowded aisles, and the demands of everyday life making it hard to find the time, that’s not surprising. 

When it comes to a healthy diet, it can seem like there are countless opinions, facts, and considerations to take into account, and the supermarket can become a stressful place. This is especially true for individuals whose diet is essential – for example, nursing mothers.

Mothers who are breastfeeding must be sure to consume a healthy diet full of diverse foods in order to nourish their child. Doctors recommend eating a variety of whole, unprocessed foods to best support healthy lactation. 

Wondering what those foods could be? Read on for more information on finding unprocessed foods, examples, and tips to help you take on the grocery store!

What Is Unprocessed Food, Anyways?

It’s likely that you have heard of “unprocessed food” before, whether from a doctor, a cooking blog, or even a health-conscious friend. However, if you’re confused about what exactly unprocessed food really is, you’re not alone! 

In fact, the definition of unprocessed foods is rather nebulous. To help us understand what unprocessed foods are, let’s first talk about what they’re not.

Processed Foods

Processed foods are items that have been harvested–think: crops or animal products–and subjected to a “process” of treatment or manufacturing before they are sold as food. There are many different kinds of processing that a food item might undergo, and as a result, there are many different kinds of processed food

Minimally Processed Foods

Some foods are minimally processed, meaning that they are kept in a form similar to their natural state but may have been changed somewhat to make them usable for cooking. Minimally processed foods typically have only one ingredient. Good examples of minimally processed foods are plant and seed oils or whole-grain pastas. 

Processed and Ultra-Processed Foods

In other cases, foods may be processed to such an extent that they lose much of their original character. Processed and ultra-processed foods often have ingredients added to them. 

This includes emulsifying agents (which help keep a liquid evenly mixed), oils, saturated fats, artificial flavors, and added sugars. Though these additives are often intended to improve a food’s taste, they often add unnecessary calories and may be unhealthy to consume.

Why Should I Avoid Processed Foods?

Loss of Nutrient Content

During the manufacturing process, it is easy for some of the nutrient content of a food to be lost. This can happen when grains or seeds are shelled and husked, when foods are heated or baked, when foods are boiled, or in various other processes. 

Sometimes, manufacturers can add nutrients back into a food–but despite this, nothing can recreate the balanced nutrient content of whole, fresh and unprocessed food.

Dangerous Additives

Some of the chemicals added to processed foods during their manufacturing can actually pose a threat to your health. For example, adding refined sugar, corn syrup, or fats to a product contributes needless calories and raises your blood sugar unnecessarily. 

Some of the fats used in food processing are particularly dangerous, as they are what’s known as “saturated fats.” These molecules can raise your cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease.

Overeating & Weight Gain

The energy-rich additives in many processed foods constitute empty calories, or nutrient-poor, high-calorie bites. 

Researchers examining the relationship between processed foods and weight gain found that people consuming a diet high in processed foods gained weight and ate more, while the same individuals lost weight and naturally ate less when they were fed an unprocessed diet. 

For your own health, it’s a good idea to avoid foods that can lead to excess weight gain – so consider transitioning away from processed foods.

Unprocessed Foods Are an Alternative to Processed Foods

Now that you have an understanding of what processed foods are and what makes them less than ideal, let’s talk about the alternative. 

Unprocessed foods haven’t been processed or altered in any significant way. They usually contain just one ingredient. And, importantly, they’re free of the dangerous additives and empty calories common in processed foods.

What Makes Unprocessed Foods a Healthier Choice?

People have been shown to lose weight more easily on an unprocessed diet and maintain healthy body weight. Additionally, unprocessed foods are significantly more nutrient-dense than processed foods. The balance of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that a diet of whole, natural, and unprocessed foods can provide is unparalleled by any heavily processed diet. 

This is especially important for people to whom nutrition is of the utmost importance for breastfeeding mothers. 

Nursing moms must consume an appropriate variety of foods to have plenty of varied nutrients to share with their babies and nourish their growth. Choosing to construct a diet from healthy, unprocessed foods is a great way for nursing moms to get the nutrition they need.

Examples of Unprocessed Foods

Whole Grains

Whole grains, such as barley or rolled oats, are an excellent food option to incorporate into your diet. They are high in fiber, iron, and other minerals.

Whole Fruits & Veggies

Whole fruits and veggies are a fantastic way to add color and flavor to your diet in a healthy way. These foods are incredibly diverse and contain essential vitamins, fiber, and healthy sugars.

Nuts

Raw nuts are a fantastic boost of protein and healthy fats. Mix them into salads or yogurt, or eat them plain as an energy-boosting snack!

Legumes

Legumes are another fantastic source of protein, fiber, and antioxidants. Eating legumes regularly can lower your blood sugar, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Meat

Finally, meat is another good example of unprocessed food – but be careful! To count as unprocessed, meat must be unadulterated. Avoid meat products, such as pre-made meatballs or patties, which may contain additives.

How To Find Unprocessed Foods in the Supermarket

Now that you’re equipped with a better understanding of unprocessed foods and their benefits, it’s time to take on the grocery store. Don’t be intimidated – with a little guidance, it’s very easy to craft a whole, nutritious and unprocessed shopping basket! 

The following supermarket tips will help you find unprocessed foods with ease.

Read Labels

Unprocessed foods will usually contain only one easily identifiable ingredient. (In the case of fruits and veggies, there might not even be a label to read!) If a food item is packaged, check the box for a list of ingredients. Look for foods with very few natural ingredients.

Shop Fresh

Processing is a common way that manufacturers make foods last longer. To prioritize unprocessed foods in your diet, you may have to shop more often as a compromise for eliminating unhealthy preservatives. Shopping for fresh foods will maximize their nutrient content and help you find unprocessed, whole products.

Shop Local

Locally-grown produce, farm-raised meats, and other food products will likely contain less preservatives and be less heavily processed if purchased locally. This is also a great way to support your local farmers!

Cook From Scratch

Making your own food might be more time consuming, but it is a tried-and-true way to ensure that your diet contains a variety of whole and unprocessed foods. Selecting ingredients individually enables you to take control of your food’s preparation, and ensures that you’re eating a top-quality diet. 

In addition, you can choose methods of preparation–such as baking instead of frying, or steaming instead of boiling–which maximize your meal’s nutrient content.

Compromise Wisely

There are plenty of minimally processed foods that are an essential part of a balanced diet, such as olive oil and canned beans. Therefore, it’s important not to count all processed foods out! It’s only natural that you’ll be tempted to incorporate more processed foods into your diet every now and then, whether to save time or satisfy a craving. 

However, there are ways to do this without compromising the integrity of your diet.

When selecting prepared foods, look for options made with whole, natural foods. These options, though processed somewhat, will still fall under the “minimally processed” category of food items, and pack a significant nutritional punch. 

There are many less-processed alternatives to the processed foods you may be familiar with. For example, consider dried fruit pieces as an alternative to gummy candies, or a natural hydration drink

Small Changes Make a Big Difference with Greater Than

Incorporating unprocessed foods into your diet can be a change you make slowly over time, as you become more acclimated to preparing your own meals and shopping smart. Remember that any improvement is worth celebrating, no matter how small–and your body will thank you. 

Ready to make the change? Try our Trial 6-Flavor Variety Pack and find your fave! Perfect for parched pregnant women and breastfeeding moms looking for a boost. 


Sources:

NIH study finds heavily processed foods cause overeating and weight gain | National Institutes of Health (NIH)

Food Processing and Health | The Nutrition Source

Breastfeeding superfoods for moms - Sanford Health News

Empty Calories: What Are They & Which Foods Are They Hiding In? | Houston Methodist On Health

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