Healthy Monday Tip #5: Avoid Processed Foods

Healthy Monday is a public health initiative founded in 2005 in association with Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and Syracuse University. HM’s goal is to end chronic preventable disease in the U.S. by offering people and organizations a weekly prompt to start and sustain healthy behaviors, intentions, actions and initiatives. For most Americans, the week begins on Monday. Studies suggest we are more likely to maintain behaviors begun on Monday throughout the week. That makes Monday the perfect day to make a change for your health and the health of our planet.


Last week’s semi-controversial post, “Stop Thinking, Start Eating” had some interesting responses. The main thing that people seemed to criticize me for was this: ok, “real food” is great… but what the heck is “real food”?

For me, eating real food means avoiding processed foods, but aside from that eating everything from fried chicken to fresh salads. (I think that) nearly all of the health problems in our society come from eating processed foods. Not from eating meat, or fat, or even white bread – no! The problems start when we start eating chemicals and preservatives and pre-packaged sweets or snacks.

Why avoid processed foods?

  • I don’t think that the human body recognizes them as food the same way that it does non-processed foods. I don’t really know the science behind this; it’s just a hunch.
  • People have been eating “bad” things like red meat and butter for years, but the truly awful epidemics – obesity, heart disease, diabetes, etc… – did not really become epidemics until the advent of processed foods. Maybe it’s correlation and not causation; I think it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Avoiding processed foods is (I think) less restrictive than avoiding, say, meat or dairy or some other random set of foods that some health professional deems unworthy. I think pretty much everyone is in agreement that processed foods are crap.
  • It’s nice to eat things that were prepared by real humans instead of machines.

Examples of processed foods I would probably avoid:

  • Oreos and other pre-packaged cookies. (This does not include pre-made cookies from Whole Foods – those are fabulously delicious.)
  • Pringles and other chips that are not recognizable as a potato.
  • Breads that don’t go moldy. (Scary.)
  • Sugary candy like Twizzlers. (If I’m going to eat candy it’s going to be something with fat, like chocolate or peanut butter.)
  • Twinkies. (Ha. I have never had a Twinkie.)
  • Fake butter or margarine.
  • Ritz crackers (these don’t go moldy as far as I know).
  • And so on…

In the ideal world we wouldn’t have to worry about how to find real food. But we do. I’ve found that a lot of it comes down to WHERE you want to eat, and not WHAT you want to eat. For example, going to a fresh Mexican restaurant is much preferable to eating at Taco Bell. Or getting a nice juicy burger from a deli is probably better than getting it at McDonald’s.

Remember that your diet will not ever be perfect.

We can and should try to avoid the clear yuck foods (like those on my list above). We can try to set good examples for our friends and families. Little things really do add up, and they can start a revolution 😉

Do you have a list of no-no’s? What foods do you eat that other people might think are “bad for you”?

For more Healthy Monday tips, check out the archives.