10 Packaged or Processed Foods Easy to Avoid

by Catherine Haug, December 16, 2012

Now that I’m retired and have much more time to cook from scratch (than when I was working 10-12 hours a day), I tend to take this blessing for granted. For those who are still working long hours, I know it is difficult to buy local and cook from scratch, so a short list of packaged/processed foods that are quick and easy to make from scratch, might be welcome.

The following list is from Dr. Mercola, who ‘borrowed’ the first 5 in the list from an article on Grist.org. He explains why the processed versions are best avoided. I’ve added my own comments/ideas as well.

1. Canned soup [or dehydrated boxed soups]. These contain processed salt, additives, MSG, and genetically engineered ingredients. Many are sold in cans lined with BPA plastic that interferes with your hormones.

Homemade soups are easy to make, and even more so if you have a crock pot. Be choosy about your fresh ingredients – shop at farmers markets, find locally-produced foods in the produce section at the market, grow your own, participate in a CSA, or buy Organic produce to avoid GMO ingredients. Use of herbs, spices, unrefined sea salt, and homemade stocks (see below), in your homemade soup is a key part of avoiding the nasty ingredients in commercial soups.

I have several soup recipes on my personal website – check out my Soups & Stocks Recipe ‘Menu’. I freeze extra soup for future use, but you can also pressure-can your soups in jars for storage on a pantry shelf.

2. Stock & Bouillon. Making your own stock (chicken, beef, or fish) or vegetable broth is easy, though takes time. A crock pot makes it even easier. Use of herbs, spices, unrefined sea salt, and homemade stocks (see below), in your homemade soup is a key part of avoiding the nasty ingredients in commercial soups.

Instead of composting potato peels, onion skins, leek tops, eggplant stems and whatever else you happen to be left with, freeze them and make stock when you have enough to make a batch of vegetable stock. See my recipe for potato peel broth, which is a rich source of minerals. Adding some type of sea weed is also helpful, as it provides iodine.

I save bony pieces of chicken when I cut up a whole chicken, then add the long bones of the thigh and drumstick left from the cooked pieces, and freeze them together for future use in making stock.

I ask Melanie in the meat department of Bigfork Harvest Foods to save fish heads, fins and bones for me, which I collect in my freezer until I’m ready to make fish stock. Whenever I see a package of ‘oxtails’ in the meat department, I take it home, transfer it to a freezer bag and freeze it until I’m ready to make beef stock.

See my stock recipes on my personal website at Soups & Stocks Recipe ‘Menu’. I freeze extra stock for future use, but you can also pressure-can your stocks in jars for storage on a pantry shelf.

3. Canned beans. Yes, they are quick and easy when you want to make chili or baked beans, but they have all the same problems as canned soups and stocks. Buy dried beans, pre-soak (or better yet, sprout them – it only takes 3 days and it shortens the cooking time), and cook them yourself in your crockpot; you’ll never go back to the canned versions. However, be sure the package of dried beans is not old, because old beans never get tender.  Store the bags in a cool, dry place (I keep them in a box under my bed because I keep my bedroom cool).

When cooking beans, don’t add salt until the last 30 minutes of cooking to ensure tender beans.

From Mercola: “Think dried beans are too time consuming? Consider Jane’s comment on the matter:

‘In reality, it takes around three minutes to put the beans in some water, another minute to change that water during soaking, and then about five more minutes to put them on the stove. All the beans you’ll eat all week in less than 10 minutes.'”

See my bean (and other vegetarian) recipes on my personal website at Vegetarian and Bean Dish ‘Menu’. If you want to make your own canned beans, be sure to use your pressure canner.

4. Hummus. Make up a batch of sprouted, home-cooked garbanzos (chick peas), and then make your own hummus. It’s very easy if you have a blender. And you can season it any way you like.

My hummus recipe is on my Garbanzos page – scroll to near bottom of page (but check out my other garbanzo recipes while you’re there). You’ll need to add your own favorite spices as it’s pretty bland without them. Tahini (sesame paste) is an essential flavor in my hummus recipe, and can be found in a natural-foods store. If you eat a lot of hummus, I recommend making your own tahini, or try a recipe without tahini.

Also, try baba ghanoush as an alternative to hummus (see my recipe on my Eggplant page.

5. Cereal. Boxed (or bagged) pre-formed cereals like Cherrios, Corn Flakes, Special-K are made from GMO corn or other GMO foods, sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, and preserved with chemicals. They are also formed by passing through an extruder that uses extremely high heat and pressure, which denatures the proteins in the cereal grains, producing toxic substances.

Instead, roll your own oats and make oatmeal. Or make your own muesli or granola. However, I don’t recommend using a hot oven to roast your granola; use a lower temperature for a longer time. See my Granola, Muesli and Porridge Recipes on my website, which includes a Buckwheat (Kasha) Porridge if you avoid gluten.

6. Microwave Popcorn. This is likely GMO popcorn but also has many other health hazards, perhaps the worst of which is Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) in the microwave popcorn bag. It’s so easy to make popcorn on top of the stove – just remember to add the lid, or you’ll end up with popcorn everywhere in your kitchen (this happened to me when I was a kid…).

7. Bottled Water and Functional Water. These are really faddish right now, but I don’t know much about these as I don’t buy them. I have a reverse-osmosis filter with a special faucet installed on my kitchen sink, for my drinking water. However, I do add a bit of unrefined sea salt to restore minerals to the water.

Functional water beverages are often sweetened with lots of sugar or HFCS, or artificial sweeteners. They have added synthetic vitamins and dyes, and are sold in plastic bottles that increase your risk of phthalate and BPA exposure.

Your tap water can’t be worse than all those chemicals, but if you’re concerned and can’t afford a reverse osmosis filter system, try a Britta or similar filter that you can keep in your fridge.

8. Fruit and vegetable juices. I just don’t get these. They are pasteurized, a heat process that destroys the antioxidants in the juices, not to mention altering the flavor. Most are sweetened with added sweeteners, and all that sugar (or artificial sweeteners) just isn’t good for you. It’s just so much better, and even easier, to eat the real fruit or veggie.

If you are a parent of little kids who are picky eaters/drinkers, make them smoothies from real fruits and veggies in your blender. Mix some washed or frozen fruits, some green leafy veggies (like spinach, chard or beet greens) with plain unsweetened yogurt or kefir in your blender. You can add a little honey or liquid stevia extract to make it sweeter if you wish.

9. Yogurt & kefir. OK, I know it’s touted as good for you and your digestion, but most commercial yogurt and kefir is sweetened with HFCS or other questionable sweeteners (like agave nectar), and sweetened fruits. If you don’t want to make your own yogurt or kefir, buy ready-made plain unsweetened versions, then add your own fruits and sweeten with a bit of liquid stevia extract.

I make my own yogurt and kefir – see my personal website: Cultured Milk Products ‘Menu’, or the pdf files on our ESP site:

10. Fermented Veggies. The commercial version of these are usually pasteurized after fermenting, a process that destroys the very nutrients you were after when you decided to try fermented veggies. There are exceptions, such as Bubbie’s brand. But it’s so easy to make your own. See our ESP page: Culturing & Fermentation Files and scroll down to Vegetable Ferments.

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