6 Realistic Ways to Avoid Processed Foods [Ancestral Diet]
Updated: Jun 10
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Eating an ancestral diet sadly does not come easy to most people raised on the standard American diet (SAD). There is definitely a learning curve, especially as you learn to shop for your groceries! SAD largely consists of convenience foods, such as frozen pizza, burgers, microwavable popcorn, packaged snacks, and shelf-stable baked goods and milk. Changing these eating habits can be challenging because of the convenience factor of SAD. But not to worry! With a few adjustments in your shopping and cooking, it’s just a matter of time before you're eating an ancestral diet.
What is the Ancestral Diet?
Ancestral eating is very simply eating like our ancestors. Not like a “caveman”, but our actual, more recent ancestors. People groups who ate unprocessed, unmodified whole foods, local to their region. Ancestral eating means avoiding processed foods, including foods that have been genetically modified. This way of eating focuses on local and nutrient-dense foods. It means eating head to tail, meaning all parts of the animal that can be consumed are consumed (organ meats, bone broth, and the more gelatinous cuts of meats). Ancestral eating is EXCELLENT for the human body, and leads to overall good oral and physical health! It’s really all about getting back to the basics of food. Read more about it here in my post What is Ancestral Eating. Eating whole foods is a HUGE help in regulating hormones! Read more about it here.
Even if you’re not trying to make the switch to ancestral eating, cutting processed foods from your diet is a HUGE leap in a good direction! Here are 5 realistic ways to do it:
1. Read the ingredients
This is probably the most important thing you can be doing! Cutting out processed foods means buying whole foods. However, instead of making literally everything from scratch, sometimes you can find packaged foods (bread, tortillas, pasta, crackers, cereal, yogurt, cheese, etc.) that are made using whole foods! The only way to do this is to read the ingredients on the package. Anything that has ingredients you cannot pronounce is not made using whole foods.
For example, when buying bread, you’ll want to find a loaf where the ingredients read: flour, water, yeast, and maybe sugar (if you’re ok with sugar).
Here is the ingredients list for a Honey Wheat Sandwich Bread:
“Enriched Wheat Flour [Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Reduced Iron, Niacin, Thiamin Mononitrate (Vitamin B1), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Folic Acid], Water, Honey, Whole Wheat Flour, Yeast, Wheat Gluten, Sugar, Vegetable Oil (Soybean), Wheat Bran, Salt, Preservatives (Calcium Propionate, Sorbic Acid), DATEM, Monoglycerides, Cellulose Gum, Natural Flavors, Monocalcium Phosphate, Soy Lecithin, Citric Acid, Grain Vinegar, Sesame Seeds.”
That is not something I want to be putting in my body! A few red flags for me are the enriched flour, vegetable oils, gums, and natural flavors, not to mention all the chemicals I can’t pronounce!
There are good alternatives though! It can be challenging to find, but there are companies that make food using whole foods! It just takes strolling through your grocery store and reading ingredient labels.
2. Cook from scratch
Cooking from scratch can sound intimidating, especially if you’re used to making things from box mixes or heating up frozen items. However, with practice hopefully, you come to prefer cooking from scratch. After a year of making food from scratch, I no longer enjoy many store-bought items, such as ice cream! My own cooking is much much better! See my recipe here for homemade nutrient-dense ice cream. Meals can be simple too. Pair together a protein and a carb for lunches and dinners. Steak and rice, chicken and potato, lamb chop and sweet potato. The combinations are endless, and lunches/dinners only take 20-30 minutes. Breakfast can be eggs and a piece of fruit or a slice of toast or both! Whole milk and yogurt are also excellent for breakfast.
3. Meal prep
If you’re cooking most of your food from scratch, meal prep is very necessary. Especially if you work full-time, have children at home, or both! You won’t have an hour and a half to prepare a delicious homemade dish for every meal. I like to spend a little extra time in the kitchen only one or two times a week and prepare food ahead of time. While the idea of bento boxes is nice, what my meal prep usually looks like is an extra large pot of soup or a casserole dish in the fridge that we eat for the week. I also like to do my baking in bulk. Because I use sourdough, baking takes more time. Usually on Saturdays, I prep my dough and let it ferment until Sunday. On Sundays, I prep and bake everything I want for the week (or a couple of weeks). This way, we have food handy for lunches and weeknights.
To see more of my tips, see my post, Ancestral Eating Meal Prep Tips and Tricks.
I go over ALL my meal-prepping secrets and let you know how I keep our house stocked with easy nutrient-dense meals!
4. Utilize your freezer
Using your freezer is incredibly helpful in avoiding processed foods. I recommended meal prepping and baking in BULK and then freezing food for later! For example, when I bake sourdough, I like to bake enough food to last our family for several weeks. To keep it from going stale before we eat it, I freeze it. I bake about every two weeks, so I usually rotate through baked items and freeze them. I freeze slices of sourdough bread, biscuits, bagels, and pizza dough. I also like to cook a double batch of whatever we’re wanting to eat and freeze half of the dish for another week. Here is the freezer we purchased and keep in our pantry. It's the perfect size for a small space!
In my area, baked goods are impossible to buy with clean ingredients. And because I prefer sourdough, I end up doing a LOT of baking! See my post here for how to start a sourdough starter.
5. Establish relationships with farmers
Establishing relationships with farmers in your area is an excellent way to source high-quality foods AND save money! Many farmers have CSA programs, where you can sign up for a weekly box of fresh produce, OR you can get meats and dairy products from your farmers. I recommend purchasing your meat in bulk. Buying meat in bulk saves money over the long haul, and allows you to ensure that you’re getting the quality of meat that you want. One of the best purchases we made this last year was a small chest freezer that fits inside our pantry. We store frozen meals and baked goods in it, but we also purchased a quarter cow to keep in it. Purchasing meat in bulk is an excellent way to save money and have high-quality food readily available! Contact your local farmers to find a grass-fed cow, sheep, free-range chickens, ducks, or geese, or if you hunt (or know a friend that hunts), venison, quail, or turkeys! Buying meat this way is excellent as you get higher quality meats (not factory farmed), and you save money in the long run.
It can be difficult to find farmers in your area that you trust. Start at the farmers market (if you have one). Talk to the vendors and ask questions. Sometimes farmers will even let you visit their farm, which is such a fun experience, and very reassuring to see healthy animals on pasture! Local Facebook groups are also excellent ways to find good farmers. I've had a lot of success in groups like "crunchy moms" or "West TN Homesteaders". Get creative, and reach out!
6. Keep whole food snacks on hand
Keeping whole food snacks on hand has been the most important thing I do to avoid processed foods. Keeping good snacks prevents me from snacking on Doritos or cookies from the break room when I get hungry. The key is to be prepared so that you don’t have to resort to whatever you can find to eat when you get hungry. My favorite snack to keep is beef sticks. See my post here for 5 pro-metabolic snacks.
And that’s really it! 6 realistic ways to avoid processed foods. These are excellent if you’re trying to eat an ancestral diet, a pro-metabolic diet, or just trying to be healthier overall. Processed foods are full of things that simply are not good for the human body, such as artificial sweeteners, preservatives, colorants, and artificial vitamins. The human body is designed to run on whole, naturally occurring foods! What have you found helps you avoid processed foods? Let me know in the comments!
Want more tips and tricks?
See my other posts: