Food processing isn’t always a bad thing: Cooking and preparing raw ingredients at home is also processing them. But the word “processed” is almost always reserved for commercial foods, usually packaged. Highly processed foods are industrially formulated mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal sources—everything from hot dogs and margarine to ice cream, candy, and many packaged snack foods. Such foods, which supply more than half the daily calories in most U.S. households, lack key nutrients and fiber and are high in sugars and sodium.
Swap plain noodles for this hearty variety (which you may find more easily by looking for soba noodles—just check that they're 100 percent buckwheat before purchasing). Buckwheat noodles contain fiber (12 grams per cup), and unlike most carbs, they contain protein, too, (24 grams per cup) making it more filling, aka harder to overeat than the regular stuff.
Though we singled out quinoa above, whole grains in general (we’re talking cereal, rice, pasta, and more) are conducive to weight loss, especially when they’re used in place of refined—white—grains. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that substituting whole grains for refined grains in the diet increases calorie loss by reducing calories retained during digestion and speeding up metabolism. Unlike refined grains, whole grains are packed with satiating, heart-healthy fiber.
Another weight-loss-friendly substitute to keep in mind is favoring salsa over ketchup. While ketchup typically has around 19 calories and 4 grams of sugar per tablespoon, fresh tomato salsa has about 5 calories per tablespoon, no added sugar, and is packed with nutritious veggies. Tomatoes, for example, are loaded with fat-blasting fiber and vitamin C, a deficiency of which Arizona State University researchers associated with increased body fat and larger waists. If you can handle spice, toss some jalapenos in your salsa to rev up your metabolism. For more on how you can switch your metabolism into overdrive, check out the best ways to boost your metabolism!
Not all the nutrients and other substances that contribute to good health have been identified, so eating a wide assortment of healthy whole foods like fruits and vegetables helps ensure that you get all of the health-promoting benefits that foods can offer. If your diet, day after day, consists of the same half dozen foods, it could fall short. In addition, varying your food choices will limit your exposure to any pesticides or toxic substances that might be present in particular foods.
Before diving into all this delicious goodness, an important note: Health and weight loss are not the same thing, and they're different for different people. Whether you want to eat well, lose weight, or maintain your weight, it's about finding what works for you—including which foods help or your hinder your goals. But if you are looking to change how you look, it's important to ask yourself why, along with how you can do it while upgrading your mental and physical health instead of harming it. To that end, if you have a history of disordered eating, it's always a smart idea to chat with your doctor before making any changes to your eating habits. But even if you don't, talking with a doctor or registered dietitian can help make sure you're setting realistic, reasonable goals for yourself. Because remember, your weight is about so much more than how you eat and exercise. Various factors influence it, like your sleeping habits, your stress levels, and other components like health conditions and hormonal fluctuations.
The weight of evidence strongly supports a theme of healthful eating while allowing for variations on that theme. A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention and is consistent with the salient components of seemingly distinct dietary approaches. Efforts to improve public health through diet are forestalled not for want of knowledge about the optimal feeding of Homo sapiens but for distractions associated with exaggerated claims, and our failure to convert what we reliably know into what we routinely do. Knowledge in this case is not, as of yet, power; would that it were so.