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Move from Ultra-Processed to Healthy Whole Foods

By Sandy Schroeder

In a busy world where many of us eat on the run or eat out a lot, sticking with healthy whole foods can be a challenge, but well worth the effort. Researchers say weight control, longevity and reduction of the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes are all key reasons why we should avoid ultra-processed foods.

Northwestern University researchers studied more than 230,000 food products and found that 86 percent of the ones made by leading food manufacturers were ultra-processed.

These food products included sugar, salt, oils, unhealthy fats and chemicals used to copy the smell, taste and texture of whole foods and increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and memory loss.

Do a Self-Check

If you want to see where you stand, scan this list of ultra-processed, processed and whole fresh ingredients and see where you eat the most.

Ultra-Processed Foods

  • White bread
  • Instant noodles
  • Chicken or fish nuggets
  • Sodas
  • Sweetened breakfast cereals
  • Flavored potato chips
  • Mashed potato flakes
  • Candy bars with many ingredients
  • Energy drinks
  • Flavored crackers

Processed Foods

Many of these choices are healthy depending on what is added.

  • Frozen potatoes
  • Frozen veggies with sauces
  • Deli rotisserie chicken
  • Plan bran cereal
  • Sweetened Fruit Juice
  • Natural Flavored Crackers

Fresh Whole Foods

These are the best options to keep you healthy.

  • Homemade breads
  • Roast chicken from scratch
  • Dark chocolate squares
  • Whole baked potatoes
  • Cooked rolled oats with honey
  • Fresh squeezed orange juice
  • Whole wheat crackers with cheese slices

If you see too many ultra-processed foods popping up in your diet, here are some ways to cut back and turn things around to eat healthy most of the time

Get started - Skip fast food or takeout and add a piece of fruit to lunch or a leafy green salad to dinner. Use extra virgin olive oil, lemon and herbs as dressing.

Skip sodas and sugared teas -  Substitute water, black coffee, or unsweetened green tea.

Scrutinize package labels - Terms like "fat free" and "sugar free" may mean artificial ingredient have been added instead. Look for labels with as few ingredients as possible that have the main ingredient listed first. Choose fresh or frozen produce whenever possible.

Start visiting your fresh fish and farmers markets - Take the family along and pick out everybody's favorites. Then find some new recipes from to turn them into dinner.

Pack fresh fruits and nuts in lunches - Serve nuts and veggies as snacks instead of chips or cookies.

Cook and bake from scratch - Look for simple recipes that start with fresh ingredients and involve the whole family in dinner preparation.

If you slip, don't give up. Just keep opting for whole healthy foods whenever you can. They will become habits worth keeping.

To learn more about your health, wellness and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Colorado Springs, Colo.

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