On the surface, the idea of eating a non-processed food diet might seem like a daunting undertaking. Cutting out chemically processed convenience foods might seem almost impossible for our busy lifestyles, but this plan offers an array of recipes and very few restrictions, making it attainable and healthful — with a little bit of planning.
A ‘common-sense’ diet
A non-processed food diet is exactly what it sounds like: a plan that cuts out any food processed in a factory. Most of these foods have more than five ingredients and are located in the center of the grocery store.
However, some fruits, vegetables and even some organic products are off-limits if they are processed or include preservatives or other additives.
The diet depends on using foods from five main groups: fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains and lean, farm-raised meats.
Those on the diet cannot eat any processed wheat, sugar or modified sugar products, boxed or prepackaged products with five or more ingredients, or deep-fried or fast food. Proponents of the diet sometimes refer to it as a common-sense diet. You eat foods that come from nature, not those that come from a factory.
Health benefits and price
The health benefits of eating these kinds of foods can be great as well. Anna Binder, a registered dietician, said that, for example, the process grains go through when they’re made into white flour and other products takes away most of their essential vitamins and minerals.
“What happens when companies process the grain is they take away the whole and bran part of the grain, and that gets rid of the fiber within the grain,” Binder said. “It takes away all the vitamins and nutrients from the grain. It also makes a lower quality product.”
Often, the cost for these items also is lower, but Binder said that shopping for non-processed foods, if done correctly, can also be cost effective.
“A bag of chips costs like $4. They aren’t any cheaper,” Binder said, but the price of produce fluctuates through the year.
“My suggestion is to buy in season. In-season items tend to be more affordable. Processed veggies, like baby carrots, are also more affordable.”
Planning and prep work
For some people, the affordability factor might pale in comparison to amount of food prep required to follow the diet.
Without the store doing the work for the cook, this diet takes a lot more time to prepare and plan meals.
Leslie Graves of Manhattan took on the non-processed food diet after a few family members had tried and liked the concept.
“I have to really buy into a diet to even try it,” Graves said. “Foods that are natural are healthy. A lot of packaged foods, they appear to be healthy but they have a lot of chemicals, preservatives and sugar that aren’t healthy. I liked the diet because it seemed realistic and healthy.”
Graves said the plan changed her lifestyle, both physically and in her planning for meals.
“It was a lot of work — a lot of extra planning,” Graves said. “I had to really read labels, and a lot of things you would think didn’t have additives — like a can of tomatoes — would have a lot of them in there. I made a lot of foods from scratch, like crackers, bread, things like that. My body had to adjust to the added fiber, and that wasn’t as fun.”
Graves did the diet for a full month, from August to September, and felt better as time went on.
She also lost a few pounds “without even trying,” she said. She has since introduced some processed foods back into her diet, but she still follows some of the principles of the plan.
How to make the change
Binder, the dietician, suggests that those who are serious about pursuing the diet for a longer period of time try small changes and gradually take processed foods out of their diets.
“I always recommend small behavior changes,” Binder said. “Especially if you are one of those people who rely on those processed foods for a lot of your diet. Start by taking one of those processed foods, changing it, and moving on.”
Graves said she enjoyed the diet and would recommend it to others.
“I think that it changed things for life,” she said. “I look at and foods in a different light. I’m more aware of the ingredients — not just calories but the ingredients. I would definitely do it again for a longer chunk next time.”
What kinds of meals can you make on a non-processed food diet?
Trying to make a meal from all-natural ingredients and whole wheat might seem like an impossible task.
Never fear, there are many resources and blogs to help with food lists, prep ideas and recipes.
One of the biggest blogs is 100 Days of Real Food, which chronicles the life of Lisa Leake as she and her family go for an all-natural food diet.
Her blog has recipes, meal planning and stories from others who have changed to a non-processed way of life.
These recipes are from her blog that are both easy and satisfying.
Whole-Wheat Toaster Pastries
Yield: Seven to eight toaster pastries
Adapted from The Homemade Pantry
2 1¼4 cup whole-wheat flour, plus extra for rolling out the dough
1¼2 teaspoon salt
1 cup cold, unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1¼2 cup water plus ice
1 egg beaten with a splash of water
7 – 8 tablespoons jam or jelly (either homemade jam or an all-fruit spread that’s sweetened with fruit juice concentrate as opposed to sugar or high-fructose corn syrup)
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Put the flour and salt in a food processor with the dough blade and pulse it together briefly.
2. Meanwhile fill a glass measuring cup with 1¼2 cup water and add a few ice cubes to it. Take the cold butter straight out of the fridge and cut it into 1¼2-inch chunks.
3. Sprinkle the pieces of butter on top of the flour in the food processor. Be careful to spread out the butter as opposed to letting it all clump together in one piece.
4. Turn on the food processor and blend until the mixture resembles a crumbly meal. While the food processor is still running add 1/3 cup water through the top. Watch the dough come together and add 2 to 3 more teaspoons of water as needed so a dough ball will form. If some of the dough is in a ball and some is stuck to the sides that is okay. You can fix it with your hands. At this point the dough could be stored in the fridge in plastic wrap for up to three days or in the freezer (in a freezer safe container) for up to six months.
5. Remove the dough from the food processor and put it on a lightly floured counter or large cutting board.
With a rolling pin (and more flour) flatten out the dough to one big rectangle or square that’s no more than 1/4 inch thick.
6. Trim any uneven ends and use those to patch other edges as necessary.
Mara’s Peanut-Thai Pasta
Yield: Four servings
8 ounces Mara’s whole-wheat spaghetti (1/2 box)
1¼4 cup soy sauce
1¼4 cup peanut butter, natural recommended
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1¼2 cup chopped fresh basil
Crushed red pepper, to taste (optional)
1. Cook noodles according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk together the peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, garlic, and basil until combined into a smooth mixture.
3. Once the pasta is ready, drain and combine with the soy sauce mixture until pasta is evenly coated with sauce. Dice half of a cucumber and toss together with pasta. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Basic Brown Rice Risotto
Yield: Five to six servings
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups brown rice, quick cooking recommended
2/3 cup white wine
6 cups warm (or room temperature) chicken stock/broth, homemade recommended
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
Suggested additions: roasted asparagus and prosciutto, shallots and mushrooms, spinach (cooked or raw), lima beans and bacon, cooked butternut squash, shellfish, rotisserie chicken, artichoke hearts, sautéed zucchini and yellow squash
1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté for several minutes until soft (not brown).
2. Add the minced garlic and brown rice. Stir for a couple minutes to coat rice with oil.
3. Pour in the wine and let absorb completely, which will only take about a minute.
4. Add chicken stock to the pan one ladleful at a time and stir frequently. When the stock is almost completely absorbed add the next ladleful and keep repeating until the rice is al dente (almost done).
5. Keep a close eye on the rice and don’t forget to stir frequently during this process. It can take up to 20 or 30 minutes before the rice is done. If the rice is not the “quick cooking” variety it could take twice as long.
6. When the rice is almost done add the last ladleful of stock (so you can serve it a little soupy), the parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and any other additions. Serve warm.