Limit Processed Foods: They Hurt the Environment Along with Your Body

processed food
TV dinner on tray

One of the best ways to improve your health is to eat less processed foods. That helps the environment too. Processed food is food that has been packaged and altered considerably since it was harvested. These foods often contain added chemicals that place unnecessary burden on the body and the planet.

In a fast-paced society, processed food may seem like a cheap, easy solution to a fast meal. But it takes energy to process, package, and transport these foods, sometimes for thousands of miles. Packaging also requires energy and transportation to reach the food it will hold. Added chemicals and preservatives extend the shelf life to allow time for transport and storage — and they have a cost too.

But don’t fret. A healthier body and planet can come with some simple changes:

  • Choose farmers markets or community agriculture to buy fresh, whole foods that are grown locally.
  • Cook more food in the home kitchen and reuse containers for storage to reduce one-time packages.
  • Choose whole grains in bulk instead of packaged cereals and grain products.
  • When you do buy packaged foods, choose larger sizes and divide them instead of using single-use packages.

Try to work these tips into your routine, but don’t worry too much about a favorite snack if there is no time to make it from scratch. A good goal is to eat 80 percent fresh foods and 20 percent foods from the middle aisles of the grocery store. Remember, these things take time to become habits, but a healthier body and ecosystem will be worth the work!

By DeeAnna VanReken, dietetic intern, and Debra Boutin, MS, RD, chair and dietetic internship director, Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr University.