Tip 4: Choose natural, minimally processed foods

As discussed last week, one of the keys to healthy eating on a budget is to prepare most of your own meals and snacks. This week I want to encourage you to take it a step further, and choose natural, minimally processed foods.

Processed foods are ones which have been prepared and packaged by a company. This includes common foods like bread and bacon, as well as junk foods like chocolate, crisps and cola. Unprocessed foods are ones which are pretty much as harvested – things like apples, eggs, and whole oats. Generally speaking, processed foods have a long list of ingredients, while unprocessed foods only have one ingredient. In other words, unprocessed foods don’t have ingredients, they are ingredients!

There is growing evidence that the more processed foods you eat, the more likely you are to be obese1. A recent study2 showed that people eat, on average, 500 Kcal a day more when given processed foods than when given unprocessed foods. That’s a lot! Part of the problem is food companies know what we like: Lots of fat, salt and sugar. Processed foods often contain far more fat, salt, and sugar than you would ever add if you made the dish yourself. It makes no difference whether it’s something simple like frozen French fries or a complex multi-course Indian ready meal. Processed foods are usually far less healthy for you.

In addition to what’s added, many ultra-processed foods (like cola, pizza pockets, chocolate bars, crisps, etc.) contain very few nutrients. They may be high in fat and simple carbohydrates (such as sugar and white flour), but most are low in protein, fibre, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. Many vitamins (such as vitamin C) are destroyed by heat and the way companies make these foods vastly reduces the vitamins and minerals in them. Home-cooked foods made from unprocessed ingredients tend to be higher in nutrients and more satiating (keeps you feeling full).

Not only that, but processed foods can be much more expensive than making the same dish yourself. For example, I recently posted a recipe for a simple fish supper of baked salmon, new potatoes, broccoli and cauliflower costing £1.65 per portion. A Tesco ready meal of salmon, potatoes, broccoli and green beans in a watercress sauce costs £3.00. Even switching basics like breakfast cereal to minimally processed versions can save you a significant amount of money. You can get a 2Kg bag of supermarket own brand porridge oats for £2.00. Assuming a portion size of 50g, that’s 5p a portion! In contrast, a healthy cereal like Weetabix costs £2.80 for 24 biscuits. If you are having 2 biscuits at a time, that’s 23p a portion*.

Fundamentally, most of us eat foods our ancestors would not recognise. We all do better when we eat things as nature intended, without preservatives, artificial flavours or colourings. There is solid research showing a diet high in vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds, fish and lean meats reduces the risk of many diseases, including obesity. As a bonus, using such foods to make your own meals and snacks can save you a significant amount of money.

If you want to get lean, stay healthy and save money, choose natural, minimally processed foods!


For some great unprocessed food recipes, from breakfast to dinner to snacks, click here!

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  1. Household availability of ultra-processed foods and obesity in nineteen European countries. Monteiro CA, Moubarac JC, Levy RB, Canella DS, Louzada MLDC, Cannon G. Public Health Nutr. 2018 Jan;21(1):18-26. doi: 10.1017/S1368980017001379. Epub 2017 Jul 17.
  2. Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Hall KD, Ayuketah A, Brychta R, Cai H, Cassimatis T, Chen KY, Chung ST, Costa E, Courville A, Darcey V, Fletcher LA, Forde CG, Gharib AM, Guo J, Howard R, Joseph PV, McGehee S, Ouwerkerk R, Raisinger K, Rozga I, Stagliano M, Walter M, Walter PJ, Yang S, Zhou M.Cell Metab. 2019Jul 2;30(1):67-77.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008. Epub 2019 May 16. Erratum in: Cell Metab. 2019 Jul 2;30(1):226.

*All prices from the Tesco.com website and correct as of 06/01/2020

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