Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Decisions, Decisions: What to do About Processed Foods in Your Diet

Clean eating is a rather general term that gives broad guidance regarding what to eat.  But many times during your journey to clean eating (oh my, that sounds so trite), you'll be faced with specific food items and/or ingredients.  These things don't make the cut, and you know it, but you're not quite sure what to do about them.  The good news is that you have options!  

1.  Eliminate it completely.  This is often the most difficult way to go (and may cause a bit of complaining by certain family members), but if you are trying to avoid something, it's also the simplest course of action.  For instance, if you realized that your favorite brand of barbecue sauce has high fructose corn syrup as the main ingredient (true story!), you could just decide that you won't use it anymore.  No barbecue sauce for chicken nuggets, no barbecue pork loin, etc.

2.  Upgrade it.  This option is sometimes more expensive, but not always.  Read the ingredient list on the seventy-five varieties of barbecue sauce and purchase one that doesn't have the offensive ingredient on the list.  

3.  Use it less often.  Or if you already weren't using the ingredient regularly, accept the fact that a little bit here and there isn't going to halt your family's clean eating progress.  Worcestershire sauce is one example of this from my own journey.  I was kind of annoyed when I realized that the second ingredient was corn syrup, and sugar came soon after that on the short list of ingredients.  Corn syrup is just another version of sugar, and then to add more sugar yet is just adding insult to injury, right?  But if I'm only using a few tablespoons of it once or twice a month in a casserole, it's probably not going to do too much harm.  I still have Worcestershire sauce in my fridge.

4.  Make it yourself.  Many, many processed foods can be cleaned up if you make them in your own kitchen.  You can find tons of recipes on Pinterest, ask your friends, or check out the seventy-hundred clean-eating websites and blogs in cyberspace.  This is sometimes the most time-consuming option, (especially when you test out five different versions of something before you find a winner), but will often save money over purchasing cleaner versions of your favorite foods.  Granola bars, macaroni and cheese, pancake mix, taco seasoning....the possibilities are endless.

Sometimes, you'll try all different solutions before settling on one.  Or your solution to the "bad" ingredient might change from week to week depending on your available time and grocery budget.  To help you apply this to your own life, here are some concrete examples from my own kitchen and grocery list:

barbecue sauce (see above):  I make my own.  I found a recipe that I liked on the first try.  It's fast, easy, and I can double (or quadruple) it and freeze it in small containers.  However, it's expensive because it calls for real maple syrup, so if I have a recipe that calls for a whole cup of barbecue sauce, sometimes I buy a better version of it from the store.

white bread:  This is one that has changed many times in this house.  I made my own bread in the breadmaker quite often anyway, so the first thing I did was to adjust my recipe.  I started using less sugar, olive oil instead of vegetable oil, and switching out some of the bread flour for white wheat flour (so I had a bread that used some white and some wheat flour).  If I ran out of time to make bread, I would purchase good-quality 100% whole wheat bread, clean sourdough bread from Costco (it's white but the ingredient list is very clean), or sometimes bakery bread.  Then I started trying out different whole wheat bread recipes at home.  I found one that turned out, and we love it.  But it doesn't use the breadmaker, so it takes a little bit of extra time...and again, I don't always have the time to make bread.  So depending on the week, we eat homemade white/wheat, homemade whole wheat, store-bought whole wheat, or store-bought sourdough.  Our overall consumption of white flour has decreased, our overall consumption of whole grains has increased, and our consumption of forty-seven different additives and preservatives has disappeared almost completely.

pizza sauce and spaghetti sauce:  I almost always make my own now, because so many store-bought ones have tons of added sugar.  I usually make a big batch and freeze it.  However, I recently discovered some cleaner sauces with no added sugar, so if I'm out of the homemade stuff and out of time, I'll use those.

deli meat:  This is another one that has changed many times.  I stumbled on the realization that almost all deli meat is processed with nitrates.  I wasn't sure what I thought about that, and I didn't have time to look into it further.  I just started reducing the amount of deli meat that we ate.  I used to make my kids a meat and cheese sandwich every day, but I started switching it up.  Now I make tuna salad, egg salad, and chicken wraps using clean ingredients, or I send leftovers, soup, or crackers and cheese.  And more recently, I found nitrate-free deli turkey slices from Costco that taste great, and although slightly more expensive than traditional deli meat, don't break the bank.

These are just a few examples, and although there are plenty more, you probably get the idea.  

Pick an ingredient or food item to work on, and then choose your course of action.  You don't have to attack everything at once...one thing at a time is best, for the preservation of your sanity!  But the important thing is that you start somewhere and do something.

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