Processed foods make up about 70% of the U.S. diet. The foods that many of us associate as being processed are things like chips and cookies but many breads, yogurt, salad dressings and cheeses are processed too. While these foods are convenient and sometimes taste delicious, many of them are loaded with saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium or ingredients (also known as chemicals) that we just can’t pronounce. The issue with these types of foods is that they can cause inflammation in our bodies and reduce immune function.
When we have inflammation in the body, it can cause many symptoms such as muscle and joint pain, brain fog and fatigue to name a few. The good news is that we can help reduce inflammation and build up our immune systems by eating real, whole foods. At first this may sound boring, but stick with me. Here are a few tips on how to eat a natural diet while still enjoying the foods you eat and without needing to spend hours in the kitchen.
- You can still buy packaged foods, but be mindful of what is on the label. I try to buy foods with 7 or fewer ingredients on the label, all of which I can pronounce and know what they are. If it sounds like a chemical, it probably is and unless numbers are in the nutrition facts, I would try to steer clear of those as well.
- Keep an eye out for added sugar. Surprisingly this is an ingredient that is added to unsuspecting foods like canned tomatoes, beans and bread.
- When buying grains, it is best to go with ones that are whole grain such as barley, basmati rice, brown rice, buckwheat, groats, quinoa, steel-cut oats or wild rice. Compared to highly processed grains, whole and cracked grains digest slowly, which prevents blood sugar spikes that contribute to inflammation.
- Choose a colorful range of fruits and veggies to ensure you get a wide range of vitamins and minerals. Many raw and cooked vegetables, and many fruits are rich in antioxidants and have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Embrace fat. Healthy fats are rich in monounsaturated or omega-3 fatty acids, which help with satiety and are good for regulating blood sugar. Some sources of healthy fats include extra-virgin olive oil, avocado, coconut products, grass-fed butter and nuts.
Remember that small changes add up, so even if you don’t make all of these adjustments at once, anything is better than nothing. Moving forward with the ones you’re ready to make now will lead to long-term success and you can always implement others in the future.