You know you need to limit processed foods for hormone health, but you don’t know where to start. Here are some tips for recognizing ultra-processed foods and what to look for instead:
They have hydrogenated oils or trans fats
These have mostly been taken out of the food system because they’re horrible for our health. They raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol while promoting inflammation. Luckily they’re pretty rare these days, but it’s a good idea to double check labels just in case.
They contain crazy amounts of sodium
If you see more than 750 – 800 mg of sodium per serving, chances are your food is pretty highly processed and might not be the best choice, especially if you have high blood pressure or other reasons to limit sodium.
They have crazy amounts of added sugar
Sugar goes by many names, so familiarize yourself with all the -ose words – dextrose, sucrose, fructose, etc. It’s not just high fructose corn syrup. If your food has more than 10-15 g of added sugar per serving, you might consider switching it out for something with less.
They are preserved with nitrates or nitrites
Processed meats are a special category of processed foods that you’ll want to limit. They contain nitrates and nitrites that are associated with increased risks of cancer and other chronic diseases as well as inflammation, so go easy on the hot dogs, lunch meat, bacon and yes, even prosciutto.
They have many hard to pronounce preservatives and chemicals
This one is a little iffy, but chances are if you’re going down a list of dozens of items and many are unrecognizable chemicals, you may be looking at a highly processed food. Everything from snack bars to canned soup can be made with minimal ingredients or with a ton of additives. If you see a bunch of additives like synthetic dyes, fragrances, stabilizers, preservatives and more, it may be a good idea to look for an alternative with less ingredients.
What to look for instead
Look for foods that are made from other food – proteins, fats, vegetables, fruits, herbs and spices. This can include oils, nuts, seeds, different kinds of natural flavors, natural emulsifiers and natural dyes. A long ingredient list isn’t always indicative of a highly processed foods. It may just have a lot of flavors. Unfortunately, that leaves the burden on you to read labels and learn to differentiate.