Gluten-Free, Keto, Non-GMO. Processed.  We live in the era of buzzwords, though we don't always know what they mean.  Our culture is known for cranking out catchy terms that are either "good" or "bad," but leave little room for nuance. All these words can be overwhelming and confusing, especially when many of us are just trying to eat healthy.  But how do you eat healthy when you're constantly being served up conflicting advice, or surrounded by foods that can hardly be considered food in the first place? Processed foods often carry a negative association in our mind. We immediately might assume that processed means it's some kind of lab concoction loaded with artificial ingredients, which isn't actually the case. So, what are processed foods then? They're agricultural products that have been fundamentally altered via heating, freezing, dicing, or juicing, like wheat flour or cooked veggies. If you chop up a banana, package it, and freeze it, it's technically been processed, albeit minimally. Processed foods often contain some kind of naturally-occuring preservative, such as salt or sugar, to help the test or make them last longer. While we should be wary of certain processed foods with high sodium and sugar contents, the real culprit is ultra-processed foods, which often contain dangerous additives and ingredients that aren't strictly regulated.  "Ultra-processed foods are made mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats. They may also contain additives like artificial colors and flavors or stabilizers," we learn from Harvard.  How much of the U.S. diet is considered ultra-processed? A whopping 60% of total calories, says a report from New York University. Wild! Over half of our total food intake is considered ultra-processed. You may shrug your shoulders and succumb to the fact this is part of our reality. After all, more and more people are flocking to cities, and hardly anyone farms their own food anymore.  We're seemingly dependent on these cheap, convenient foods to maintain our busy schedules and ball on a budget. But while it may seem like we're powerless in this situation, we're not. There are ways to circumvent the ultra-processed foods that await us at the grocery store, gas station, or vending machine.  But first, we need to be able to answer the following: how do we better identify processed vs. ultra-processed food? And how does it affect us daily? And can we replace these foods with something better? 


Processed foods and ultra-processed foods get used interchangeably, but it's important to distinguish them from each other.  One way we can do so is by understanding the Nova Food Classification System.  The system was created by Brazilian university professor Carlos Monteiro after he saw type 2 Diabetes and obesity rates rising in his country, despite sugar purchases being down. His system categorizes processed foods into four different categories.
    • Unprocessed or minimally processed (vegetables, oats, pastas, eggs, herbs, coffee): The nutritional content in these foods hasn't been altered, and the only "processing" that takes place is preparing the food for optimal consumption, such as pitting or peeling a fruit. Freezing, refrigerating, fermenting or vacuum packaging are all examples of minimal processing.
    • Oils, fats, and sugar (butter, honey, salt, maple syrup, vegetable oils): These are derived from plant or animal based sources, but simply entail converting a raw product into a different form through a specific process (olives into olive oil, for instance).
    • Processed foods (bacon, beef jerky, canned fish, tomato paste): These foods typically only have a few additives, such as added sugars or salt, to preserve freshness or taste, or make the product more portable / readily edible.
    • Ultra-processed foods (soda, energy drinks, instant soups, breakfast bars): Defined as "formulations of ingredients, mostly of exclusive industrial use, that result from a series of industrial processes," these foods go above and beyond simple additives like sugar and salt, and contain many additives. They are designed to promote appetite and be easily consumed at the person's convenience. They make up 60% of the average American's diet.  
 As you can see, processed foods aren't always terrible, factory-made, chemical concoctions. Canned tuna and beef jerky are good protein sources. The bigger concern is about what's added, and the amount of additives.  Unfortunately, questionable additives have made their way into our food supply. We won't get into the whole history of it, but here's the gist. The FDA simply doesn't have the manpower or funding to check every single product on the market.  As such, we get things like GRAS. In 1997, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) added a provision for ingredients classified as GRAS, or "generally recognized as safe." Its purpose was to allow manufacturers to skip the FDA review process when adding common, well-known ingredients like sugar, salt, or vinegar.  However, food producers began taking advantage of this obvious loophole. The ambiguous term of "generally safe" has led to new ingredients being added to the food supply with almost no oversight. "Some of these products contain additives that the FDA has found to pose dangers. And even ingredients the agency has agreed are GRAS are now drawing scrutiny from scientists and consumer groups that dispute their safety," a 2015 NPR report found.

It's often the food company that chooses what is considered GRAS. That shifts the trust into the hands of the companies, whose main purpose is to sell.

Despite being the U.S.' main food regulatory agency, the FDA isn't exactly a stickler about additives. And on the whole, the U.S. has more of a probability approach than the precautionary stance used by the European Union.  That means instead of being overly cautious, they take calculated gambles on what will likely be safe. Sounds a lot like GRAS.  Here are a few additives banned in many other countries that still make their way into the U.S. food supply: 
    • Titanium Dioxide: This substance is banned in Europe due to its potentially cancerous effects and high "genotoxicity" levels. In other words, the chemicals can damage our DNA. However, we can find it in many common products, like gum, candy, and coffee creamers.
    • Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO): BVO is often found in sodas (such as Mountain Dew) and sports drinks, due to its ability to help "emulsify" citrus oil and water and keep the oil and water from separating. Because it has "vegetable oil" in the name, we may not think of it as harmful. However, an article from Mayo Clinic stated that "there have been reports of people experiencing memory loss and skin and nerve problems after drinking excessive amounts (more than 2 liters a day) of soda containing BVO." We may not be chugging Mountain Dew daily, but the fact that this potentially toxic and purely cosmetic ingredient exists is troubling.
    • Red Dye 40: If you find a non-produce product that's red, odds are it has this synthetic food dye. From fruit punch Gatorade to Twizzlers, Red Dye 40 has become the go-to for making candies and juices look extra appealing. However, the Center for Science and Public Interest (CSPI) suggests that "Red 40 can lead to adverse reactions and trigger ADHD symptoms in children." Moreover, it's made from petroleum and outright illegal in countries like Norway and Austria. 
 Though they may not be as widely scrutinized as some of the above, there are some other common additives in ultra-processed food that fly under the radar but are still potentially harmful: 
    • Carrageenan: An extract derived from a species of red seaweed, this common additive is used to thicken and gel foods to make them more palatable. It's used in many alternative milk products to imitate the creaminess of regular milk. There's been some debate over its potential side effects. The FDA approved food-grade carrageenan for us as an additive. However, in its degraded form, it becomes poligeenan, a carcinogen (cancer causer). Some scientists have worried that the acid in our stomach could start this degradation process. The verdict is still out there, but many have reported stomach issues, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, as a side effect of consuming products with Carrageenan.
    • High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): This became such a controversial ingredient that many popular brands now make it very clear that their products have NO high fructose corn syrup. However, many products still use HFCS as a sweetener, such as Heinz Ketchup, RITZ crackers, and Aunt Jemima pancake syrup. Why is HFCS used? It's cheaper and sweeter. That's a win-win for a cost and taste conscious food producer. However, HFCS has been proven to increase your appetite and therefore get you to consume more. It's hard to avoid HFCS food as it makes up 40% of caloric sweeteners in the United States.
    • Sodium Nitrate: You'll most commonly see sodium nitrate in cured meats, such as beef jerky or bacon. It's primarily used to protect against bacteria and keep meats fresher for a longer period of time. Nitrates are found in many plants, as they absorb them from the soil. However, elevated levels of it have been linked to colorectal cancer. The "safe" amount has been deemed as 3.7 mg per kilo of body weight, per the CDC. That would translate to 0.25 grams of sodium nitrate per day for a 150 pound person.
 Additives aside, we should avoid ultra-processed foods because of nutritious things that get removed in the processing. In the process of making products cleaner, more presentable, and uniform, vital nutrients and components are stripped away.  Here are just a few ways nutritious ingredients is either overshadowed or taken out completely in ultra-processed foods: 
    • Artificial Dyes: U.S. food companies are required to disclose what artificial dyes and coloring they use, but are not required to disclose the amount. Reuters reported that " Fruity Cheerios, Trix and Cap’n Crunch’s OOPS! All Berries had the most artificial dyes, with about 32, 36 and 41 milligrams per serving, respectively." As mentioned with Red Dye 40, these ingredients have been linked to hyperactivity and attention disorders in children. They also don't add any kind of nutritional benefit, but are purely used to make products look more appealing.
    • Ultra-Pasteurization: Pasteurization itself has been around since French scientist Louis Pasteur coined the process in 1860. The basic premise is heating up animal products like milk to a certain temperature to kill off unwanted bacteria. Most commercialized milk products undergo pasteurization, which keeps their shelf life around 2 weeks. However, ultra-pasteurization, which heats the milk to much higher temperatures quickly, can lead to shelf lives of almost 3 months! Seems like a benefit, until you consider that heating at such a high temperature kills both bad and good bacteria. In the process, natural sugars, fats, proteins, vitamins, and enzymes are also lost. These enzymes help us digest food by turning nutrients into substances that our stomach can process.  This is yet another example of trying to artificially prop up foods meant to be consumed within a short time of production, and going against the grain of nature. Milk is only supposed to be good within a short window, not packaged for 3 months.
    • Lack of Fiber: "Processed foods contain little, if any, fiber," says an article by Swedish Medical Center, of Seattle, WA. Swedish goes on to say that we need both soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber protects us from blood glucose spikes by slowing down nutrient absorption, whereas insoluble fiber speeds up the time it takes for food to reach our colon. (A.K.A., better poops).  Dietary Fiber contains both soluble and insoluble fiber, yet half of us get our daily recommended intake. 
 Many ultra-processed foods ditch essential fiber in the process. Refining wheat into bleached white bread or white pastas leads to our bodies absorbing more glucose way too quickly: "Since glucose is the preferred energy source for our bodies, it’s easily absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream. But with very little fiber, protein or fat present, there are no barriers to absorption. This means dietary glucose is absorbed quickly and efficiently, resulting in a spike in blood glucose," says Swedish.  This creates both lethargy and hunger, the consequences of which are weight gain over time or Type 2 Diabetes. Another side effect of the quick absorption is that it robs our gut microbiome of what it needs, leading to an effect known as gut permeability or a "leaky" gut. This can let in more toxins and harmful bacteria, and eventually lead to increased inflammation.


You can look at the above additives, chemicals, and nutrition-stripping processes and surmise that eating ultra-processed food is probably not good for your health.  However, listing facts doesn't explain the whole story. We have to understand the why behind it, and how it affects our health over the long run. Here's how Dr. Carlos Monteiro, pioneer of the NOVA classification system, describes ultra-processed foods:  "They are not food. They are formulations. They contain chemical compounds that do not belong to food—that should not belong to foods." What is this "not-food" doing to our bodies? Many of us stop short of considering that question.

In essence, we are the guinea pigs eating foods "generally" recognized as safe and filled with ingredients that really haven't been checked thoroughly.

But instead of having to be lab rats and suffer the consequences after the fact, we can look at other studies that have been done and can proactively guard against those outcomes for ourselves. Luckily, top researchers have been doing some of the work for us, and have outlined some of the potential implications:

Weight Gain / Obesity

In 2019, Dr. Kevin Hall of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) gathered a group of 20 random volunteers to measure the effects of highly processed food on our bodies. Hall was skeptical at just how much of an impact there'd be, yet was shocked by his study's findings.  This was his process: 
  • Participants were divided into two groups.
  • One group had to eat only ultra-processed meals, and the other group could only eat unprocessed or minimally processed foods. 
 They aimed to answer this question: does eating processed food cause you to eat more, and cause lasting health issues? The answer was yes. "The study found that people who ate processed food ate more calories and gained more weight than when they consumed a whole food diet with foods that were unprocessed," the NIH reported. "On average, participants gained 0.9 kilograms, or 2 pounds [per week], while they were on the ultra-processed diet and lost an equivalent amount on the unprocessed diet." Take two pounds per week and multiply that by four. That's eight pounds in a month. Granted, this was a study and certain participants were only eating ultra-processed foods. However, it's not uncommon for this to be a daily lifestyle or habit. Statistics already show that two-thirds of the American diet is a combination of ultra-processed and processed foods.  Other studies have yielded similar results, with most agreeing that eating too much ultra-processed food leads to weight gain, obesity, and eventually diseases such as Diabetes or various cancers.  Why the rapid weight gain?  As we discussed earlier, ultra-processed foods ditch most of the healthy, nutritious ingredients. That makes them less filling and quickly digested, leading to those glucose spikes. We're hungrier more, and it takes our bodies way less energy to burn these foods, thus burning less calories per day.  "Many of these ultra-processed foods are almost pre-chewed for us. They melt in your mouth immediately. There's no protein, there's no water, there's no fiber slowing them down. It's going to hit your taste buds and light up your reward and motivation centers of the brain immediately. Then there's a secondary hit of dopamine when it gets absorbed into the body," said Ashley Gearhardt, professor at the University of Michigan, in an interview with Newsweek Think about it this way: it's like filling up a sports car with any old gas. Sure, it can run, but not to optimal performance. If the engine is churning its fuel too quickly, you're going to fill up more frequently. On the flip side… Paying a bit more for premium gas helps the engine to both last longer and perform better.

Gastrointestinal & Heart Disease

While obesity is something to take seriously, the stakes get even higher with findings like this: ultra-processed foods have been linked to cardiovascular diseases and subsequently, death.  A study based in France and Brazil showed that a diet of ultra-processed foods was linked to much higher rates of cardiovascular disease. And another study done in Spain conducted over 10 years showed staggering results when evaluating ultra-processed food's impact on mortality: "Results showed that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods (more than 4 servings per day) was associated with a 62% increased risk of all cause mortality compared with lower consumption (less than 2 servings per day). For each additional daily serving of ultra-processed food, mortality risk relatively increased by 18% (a dose-response effect)." To keep in mind, these studies were observational, so we can't say conclusively that A led to B. Eating ultra-processed foods certainly contributed to cardiovascular issues and mortality, but the study wasn't taking into account other lifestyle habits (exercise regimen, smoking, sleeping, environment, stress, anxiety, etc.). Still, it's hard to ignore that a highly processed diet had significantly higher rates of mortality.  Beyond the heart, ultra-processed foods can also take a toll on your stomach. A joint, international study set out to determine the effects of ultra-processed foods on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is chronic inflammation in your digestive tract. They found that consuming one to four servings of ultra-processed food led to a 67% increase in IBD.  Researchers ultimately found that the way the food was processed had more to do with the actual food itself.  The Chron's and Colitis Foundation reported that "trigger-foods" for IBD include: non-absorbable sugar, sugary snacks, and fried foods - all of which fall under the umbrella of "ultra-processed."


We talked earlier about how many commonly used food additives contain carcinogens (cancer-causing substances), so it's probably not surprising at this point that ultra-processed foods have been linked to cancer. The tricky part is that there aren't a huge amount of studies out there diving into the causation between ultra-processed food and cancer. However, there's strong evidence to suggest a link, says the British Journal of Cancer. "Available evidence suggests that UPFs may increase cancer risk via their obesogenic properties as well as through exposure to potentially carcinogenic compounds such as certain food additives and neoformed processing contaminants." Needless to say, the consequences are serious.  However, we're up against a landscape dominated by Big Food corporations who've used over 5,000 (mostly untested by the FDA) substances. If the effects of ultra-processed foods are so serious, why do companies continue to make these products?


Dollar, dollar bills, y'all. If you're ever trying to answer why a powerful food company does something, the answer is usually money. The goal of a food company is to get you to eat more (and pay more), not advocate for public health. There are certain exceptions, of course, but for the most part we can see a clear profit-seeking agenda.  In order to make money, the manufacturing cost must be low, and the demand must be high.  That's Economics 101. So, how do they do it?

Shelf-Life + Convenience

First off, they extend the shelf life of their items. Longevity isn't necessarily a bad thing. Your grandma's famous peach preserves will last forever, taste as sweet as when she canned them, and look cute in that mason jar she gave you. But grandma wasn't the first to start keeping food for the long haul. The ancient Egyptians learned how to preserve their meats with salts, and other cultures have used icy mountaintops as de facto freezers. Ever since refrigeration came about, we've been able to waste way less food. In many cases, it's perfectly reasonable to opt for the more "convenient" version of a food. Like we said before, processed food doesn't always mean loads of additives. Canned tuna is literally tuna in water. Diced veggies in a bag are still just veggies.  However, for ultra-processed foods, long shelf-life doesn't translate to quality or healthiness.  Let's take Pringles, for example. Who didn't love Pringles as a kid, or stack five chips and eat them all at once? "Once you pop, the fun don't stop," right?  Pringles have a seemingly impressive 15 month shelf life. However, they also contain dangerous chemicals like acrylamide. This is yet another carcinogen chemical that becomes present when starchy foods, such as potatoes, are cooked at super high temperatures So as fun as it is to stack and snack on some pringles, is the convenience and shelf-life worth it?  "US consumers prefer convenience over quality," says USDA Economic Researcher Mark Gehlhar. "We are not the only country to eat processed foods, but in Japan for example, the processing of fish products is usually just cleaning and freezing them, whereas here we add chemicals and preservatives. And in Europe, "staples" such as Pop-tarts have failed miserably." Beyond just making food last longer and pre-packaging them for your convenience, food processors pack in tons of empty (non-nutritious) calories into each item.  For example, one Oreo cookie has 53 calories, whereas one cup of grated carrots has 45 calories. That's one cookie vs. one cup of carrots.  Then why is it so easy to demolish an entire pack of Oreos by the sleeve? For one, these products are made to be intentionally addicting.

Addictive Qualities

A main reason is that they're designed to be addictive by tasting really good ("hyperpalatable") and leaving you wanting more. Michael Moss, a Pulitzer prize winning journalist, put it this way: "Once you fall hard for [processed foods], your entire body works against any efforts on your part to regain control." It's a slippery slope once you get hooked.  An interesting subplot is that many Big Tobacco companies now own major food brands. Philip Morris International owns Kraft, and also acquired Nabisco from fellow tobacco company RJ Reynolds in 2003.  Interesting…a company that sells addictive nicotine cigarettes also owns products that they want to be consumed in excess.  A recent Newsweek article described the implications of that takeover:  "By the time Big Tobacco began acquiring food companies, they had decades of experience studying and optimizing the speed with which their products delivered nicotine to the brain. They continued to harness that science in their food products." These big food companies have huge marketing and research teams dedicated to optimizing the best taste, color, smell, texture, packaging, and beyond.  Arguably, the way a food item is advertised or packaged has the biggest pull on whether or not we buy it.

Advertising & Misleading Claims

A giant, anthropomorphic mug of juice breaks through a wall. "Oh yeahhhh," he shouts. In any other circumstance this would be a terrifying event, but not to fear, the Kool-Aid man is here!  This popular ad is a reminder that brands love it when recurring characters stick in our heads. It reminds us of their products and gives us a friendly mascot to latch onto. You may not trust General Mills, but maybe you'll trust Tony the Tiger. The Pillsbury Dough Boy looks so cute and innocent as he points to that delectable Toaster Strudel.  Nevermind that there are supposed to be regulations against targeting children in advertising. Yet many take the attitude of Michael Scott from The Office, who once mused: "I set the rules, and you follow them blindly, okay?"  Here's an example: "By 2004, Philip Morris had developed at least 36 child-tested flavors to its Kool-Aid line, of which some – like “Great Bluedini” – integrated colors with cartoon characters. The tobacco giant also acquired Capri Sun and Tang, and used similar child-focused integrated marketing strategies to drive those sales," writes Suzanne Leigh in an article from the University of San Francisco.  Dr. Marion Nestle, author of the groundbreaking book Food Politics, says that children are actively targeted from an early age to build lifelong brand allegiances. This starts at the earliest levels, as big food companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola often have exclusive "pouring rights" at schools. That gives them access to vending machines, school lunches, and beyond. Kids at school are the definition of a captive audience.  In her book, she cited one Pepsi official who claimed that: "if you have no advertising in schools at all, it doesn't give our young people an accurate description of our society."  But cartoon characters and commercials aside, one of the biggest ways ultra-processed food sells is by making misleading or untrue claims.  That's why it's so crucial to verify what these claims actually mean, which you can learn more about in our practical food labels guide. In short, companies often emphasize the good while minimizing the bad. For example: they market "low-fat" to distract from high sugar content or make you think the product is actually healthy. Or they'll use buzz-words like "natural," which means virtually nothing. Arsenic is natural.  This isn't a trend that's solely unique to the United States. In an effort to sell more and expand their reach, many big-time food producers (such as Coca-Cola) are targeting "middle-income" countries like South Africa or Indonesia as new consumers. According to The Conversation, The Coca-Cola system "now includes 900 bottling plants worldwide, distributing 2 billion servings every day." A study from the International Journal of Health and Policy Management found that by 2024, total sales of ultra-processed foods will be equivalent to that of wealthy nations. 

Political Clout

You may be wondering: how do they get away with this? As we discuss in our blog, The Rise of Disease and Greed, food companies wield tremendous power in the political system. Using tools like lobbying, influencing policy makers through donations, or swaying nutrition professionals to their side, they make it easier to sell their products and stifle any messaging that suggests eating less.  Here's Dr. Nestle's take: "The food industry uses lobbying, lawsuits, financial contributions, public relations, advertising, partnerships and alliances, philanthropy, threats, and biased information to convince congress, federal agencies, nutrition and health professionals, and the public that science relating diet to health is so confusing that they need not worry about diets. When it comes to diets, anything goes." This happened in 2015, when the U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee originally wanted to recommend eating less sugar-sweetened beverages, but unsurprisingly that never made it into the guidelines.  And even if you wanted to do further digging, you're pretty limited. Per the organization Feed the Truth (FTT), 0% of the largest food producers disclose their political giving.


Well, what CAN I eat? Unlike cigarette smoking, we can't just ditch eating altogether. However, we can start to actively replace ultra-processed foods with whole foods. (Not to be confused with the popular grocery store.) What is a whole food?  Whole foods have minimal to no processing and include vegetables, fruits, fish, grains, nuts, and legumes. As WebMD puts it, they're "foods that are"as close to their natural form as possible." It's important to note that many whole foods have some kind of processing – but that doesn't mean they're bad for us.  Like we defined earlier, processing could include something like canning tuna or chopping lettuce. It's the additives and artificial ingredients we have to watch out for. What are some examples of whole foods substitutions of ultra-processed foods?
  • Yogurt topped with berries instead of a Pilsbury toaster strudel. 
  • Steak cooked with olive oil, rosemary, salt, and pepper, instead of a McDonald's hamburger. 
  • Homemade granola sweetened with honey, instead of a high-fructose corn syrup sweetened granola bar. 
 On a practical level, when you're eating whole foods, you're getting many of the nutrients that are lost in ultra-processed foods. Said nutrients include good fats, phytochemicals (from fruits and veggies), antioxidants, and fiber, to name a few. Phytochemicals have been documented to aid the immune system, reduce inflammation, slow the growth of cancer cells, and regulate hormones.  Research aside, eating more whole foods gets us back to eating the way we were designed to. Sure, human beings have been "processing" foods for centuries, but the advent of ultra-processed foods is a relatively recent phenomenon.

For most of history, food was grown locally, ingredients were naturally-derived, and depending on where you lived, salt and other spices would've been a delicacy. There were no big labs or chemical compounds you couldn't pronounce, nor were there companies with billion dollar marketing budgets and strategic plans to capture your tastebuds. 

It may seem like the odds are stacked against us, or that this simply isn't possible in the 21st century. Do we really have that much "free will" when it comes to our food choices?  While it's true that we are often swayed, misinformed, and pulled in many different directions, the answer is yes, it is possible to eat more "naturally." This process doesn't have to be tedious, expensive, or confusing either.


Taking in all this information might feel a bit overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Keep in mind these two things.  One, this doesn't have to be an overnight change. And two, there are simple swaps you can make to still eat the foods you love without them being ultra-processed. If you want to switch to a whole foods diet, there's a few practical steps you can take to get started:

Identify Processed and Packaged Foods

Again, if you really want to go in-depth on every possible food label you might see, we encourage you to check out our resources on Food Labels. If you don't have time to dive into that, we'll hit the essentials for you.  First off, check the ingredients list. Food producers will use tricky tactics to bury the unhealthy stuff or use confusing language to mask it. A pretty common rule of thumb is that if you can't pronounce it, you probably shouldn't be eating it. (There are obviously exceptions to this). The first ingredient is typically the most important, and ideally it's some kind of whole food such as a whole grain, fruit, vegetable, nut, or legume. Scanning the first three ingredients can give you a pretty good idea of what the food is composed of. However, be on alert for added sugar and sodium!  Brown rice syrup sounds like it would be healthy, as it comes from rice, which is a whole grain. But alas, it's sugar. Some products inherently have sugar, such as Larabars, which are made from dates. While it is still sugar, the natural sugar in dates is way better for you than added sweeteners like table sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.

Buy Around The Perimeter

Supermarkets were strategically designed. Ever wonder why the milk is always in the back? While it may not be as popular anymore, milk historically was a staple product. However, grocery owners hoped that you'd notice some other products on your way to the back of the store to grab your essentials.  Knowing the grocery store layout can help you avoid picking up some unnecessary items or being lured in by seemingly appetizing ultra-processed foods. The perimeter is most often where the produce, meat, bulk legumes and nuts, and whole grains are.  On the flip side, sugary snacks, ready-to-eat frozen meals, potato chips, and other lab-made snacks tend to hang out in the middle. You don't have to hang out with them. 

Make Simple Swaps

One of the biggest fears of switching to a primarily whole foods diet is that it'll be BORING, or you'll just be hungry all the time. On the flip side, there are some pretty simple, creative swaps you can do, and you may not even recognize the difference: Bread: Swap the refined, fiber-lacking white bread for bread made with whole grain. Dave's Killer Bread is a great choice, as the first ingredient is organic whole wheat. You may have to pay a few extra dollars, but Dave's is both excellent in taste and full of whole ingredients. As a tip, you can get a 2 pack at Costco for $7.99, making it comparable to most bread loaf prices. Pasta: The inner-Italian in you might scream at the idea of "alternative" pastas, but at the end of the day, white pastas are a refined grain. The benefit to eating whole wheat or bean-based pastas is more fiber and other nutrients. Banza pasta, made from chickpeas, has an incredibly similar texture and flavor as regular pasta, but twice the amount of protein and four times the amount of fiber. Fruit: Companies love to market that their products contain fruit, but often the fruit is the least present part of them. Fig Newtons. Sunny D. Pop Tarts. Fruit Gummies. Sugary Yogurts. The list goes on and on. Instead of getting a meager amount of fruit from a processed bar or drink, consider buying more fruit in its original form. Apples and peanut butter, for example, is a great snack filled with fiber, antioxidants, and protein.  There are a myriad of other swaps you can make, and this list is certainly not exhaustive. The goal is to get you to see that eating whole foods can still be convenient, cost-effective, and most importantly, beneficial to your overall health.  Remember, eating more whole foods gets us back to eating the way we were designed to.


Your journey with food is unique, so you deserve to be uniquely served. These fields help us better understand how to help you with your nutrition journey.

*Your data is covered through our privacy policy.