Medically reviewed by Amy Gorin, MS, RDN
Ready to eat more whole foods this year? Use this unprocessed foods list to jump on the unprocessed food diet bandwagon! Eat real food and feel happier and healthier!
Over the last year, we've seen the rise of plant-based eating. But we're only getting started with this health trend. This year, you'll want to embrace diets and eating styles focused on whole foods—and turn to nature's bounty instead of relying solely on pre-packaged snacks and meals.
But what does it actually mean to eat off of an unprocessed food list? What is a real food diet, and what are unprocessed foods? These are some of the most common questions I get as a dietitian. By the end of this blog post, you'll know the answer.
I'm not only asking the experts to share their two cents on the diet and the best foods to eat overall, I'm also revealing the most nutritious fruits worth stocking up on. Yup, you can absolutely have a low-sugar dessert, and fruit is one of the best choices.
And if you decide to start incorporating more whole foods into your diet, I've got just the recipe for you: a homemade dessert that's way better for you than the processed version. Let's dive in!
What's a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet?
We all know someone who's recently jumped on the plant-based bandwagon, but do you know what doing so actually entails?
From the delicious foods that are staples of this eating style to the nutritional benefits of an eating unprocessed foods, I asked my colleagues to break down the whole-food, plant-based diet in my Food Network article so you'll no longer feel out of the loop. Hint: It involves foods like olive oil!
Read on to find out about what is unprocessed food and what avoiding highly processed foods really means.
P.S. If you want to eat real food and make following an unprocessed food diet a no brainer, download my mix-and-match meal plans that focus on whole foods.
Following an unprocessed foods diet and pursuing clean eating may also be helpful for losing weight. Stock up on those fresh fruits and vegetables when you're at the grocery store!
What You Should Know About Trans Fats
I’m not a speedy grocery shopper. Whenever I shop for packaged goods like crackers, pancake mix, and frozen meals, I read the ingredient labels to make sure the foods don't contain any trans fats—which can elevate my cholesterol levels and increase my risk of heart disease.
Many packaged goods contain trans fats, which we've long known are detrimental to our health: They raise levels of “bad” LDL
cholesterol in the body and increase risk of heart disease. They may also contribute to obesity and memory loss. Here's a brief primer on why you should avoid trans fats.
Research in the Journal of Health Psychology reveals another way trans fats can cause harm. Eating them may mess with your mood. In the study, San Diego researchers analyzed the trans fat intake of 4,992 subjects.
People taking in more trans fats had a harder time with
emotional awareness and clarity. The study authors didn’t note why the finds were such—but other research linking trans fat intake with higher risk of depression notes that the fats may alter
mood by increasing inflammation in the body.
Thankfully, someday soon, packaged foods containing trans fats will be a lot harder to find. The main source of trans fats—partially hydrogenated oil—is being scrutinized by the FDA and are to be removed from the “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list.
The fact that partially hydrogenated oils will, in fact, be taken off of the GRAS list (in company of many other additives, including red 1, 2, and 4; butter yellow; and the artificial flavoring cinnamyl anthranilate), they won’t be allowed in U.S. packaged or restaurant foods, and it will be easier to shop for foods free of trans fats.
This could prevent 7,000 deaths from heart disease and up to 20,000 heart attacks annually, per the U.S. Centers for Disease for Disease Control and Prevention.
The final deadline for the roll-out of this enactment is January 1, 2021. Other sources of trans fats to look out for are partially hydrogenated shortening and animal byproducts. (Hydrogenated oil does not contain trans fats.)
While we wait for the new ruling to be 100% put into place, a current concern is that many food companies don't make it easy to shop for trans-fat-free products.
In fact, a study by researchers at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, published in Preventing Chronic Disease, found that most packaged foods containing trans fats are misleading.
Scientists looked at 4,340 popular U.S. packaged foods—including baked goods, snack foods, and frozen foods. Although about 391 of these items contained partially hydrogenated oil, most (about 328) listed “0 grams trans fat" per serving on the label.
A food manufacturer is allowed to state such a claim if the food has between 0 and .5 grams trans fats per serving. But the issue is that sometimes the serving is made very small—say, a Tablespoon of coffee creamer—to make this happen.
Here's Some of the Best Real Food You Can Eat
When you think of an unprocessed food diet, you probably think of ditching crunchy chips in favor of crisp veggies. But don't forget about fruit! Wholesome and tasty fruit are minimally processed healthy foods that provide you with the nourishment you need to get by.
Plus, it makes for
a great dessert substitute, especially if you're cutting back on processed treats. Find out what fruits top the nutritional ranks in my Food
Network article. And
see which fruits have the least sugar.
Amy's Real-Food Recipe to Try
Blend this up: Chocolate Nice Cream!
Don't worry, you don't have to give up dessert if you're taking a step back from processed foods. My homemade nice cream has just three ingredients—making it good for your body (eat real food!) and your budget.
Be sure to whip up a big batch to store in the freezer so you can satisfy your hankering at a moment's notice. Also whip up blueberry nice cream! There's no high fructose corn syrup or even any added sugar in either of these nice creams.
This blog post was updated in June 2020. A version of this content originally appeared on WeightWatchers.com
- What Is a Whole-Food, Plant-Based Diet?, FoodNetwork.com
- Trans Fatty Acid Intake and Emotion Regulation, Journal of Health Psychology
- U.S. Centers for Disease for Disease Control and Prevention
- Prevalence of Partially Hydrogenated Oils in US Packaged Foods, 2012, Preventing Chronic Disease
- This Is the Best Fruit You Can Eat, FoodNetwork.com
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I'd love to hear from you! What do you think of the unprocessed food diet? Do you feel different when you follow a real food diet? What do you think of trying to eat 100 days of real food, or going for an even more long-term plan?
Want to go shopping with a dietitian? Here's your chance! I just opened up my very own storefront, full of my fave tip sheets, cookbooks, kitchen products, and more! Check it out!