4 Reasons Why I'm Healthier Eating More Processed Foods

What is one dietary change you could make to improve your health? Maybe it's eating fewer night snacks, cooking your own meals instead of eating out, or adding more vegetables to your plate. One answer you might not hear as, often, though, is "eating more processed foods."

Processed foods have earned a bad rep over the last years - and rightly so in many of ways. Yet, as I've returned to college, started two jobs and squeezed in plenty of adventures with friends these last few months, I've noticed something: my intake of processed foods has gone up...and - contrary to what society often makes us believe - my health hasn't plundered down. 

casey the college celiac


Why? I'll be honest - it stumped me for awhile. In fact, this was one of the most challenging posts to write because I know it goes against a lot of advice given and diets followed by other people. However, I've come to several medically-unqualified (as I've said before, I'm a college student, not a doctor!) conclusions from my personal experience.

What did I eventually discover? Here are four reasons why eating more processed foods - including, full disclosure, several sponsored goodies - has made me healthier overall...and how the same could be true for you.

1. Processed foods aren't all created equal.  

First off, what exactly are "processed foods" anyway? A definition is harder to nail down than you might initially think. According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, "food processing" involves "any deliberate change in food that occurs before it's available for people to eat." Processed foods also exist on a continuum, ranging from "minimally processed" products (like washed and packaged fruits and vegetables) to "ready-to-eat" foods needing minimal or no preparation (like breakfast cereals, bagged cookies or rotisserie chicken). 

casey the college celiac
That cookie face...
Processed foods, therefore, aren't just the Milky Ways and packaged powdered donuts calling your name at your local grocery's check out line. They can also include foods that people often equate with "health" - like prepackaged meals aimed toward weight loss or bottled veggie-packed juices. In fact, some foods are even processed to make them safer to eat - like pasteurized milk, which is heated to kill harmful bacteria.

All this goes to say that, even though I'm eating more processed foods than ever before, I'm not just binging on gluten free Oreos. One of my favorite "processed food" finds recently? Setton Farm's Pistachio Chewy Bites. These non-GMO energy bites are made of pistachios, cranberries and agave nectar. Besides being an ultimate chewy/crunchy combo, they are also packed with fiber and protein.

casey the college celiac
Could there be a more holiday-inspired bar?
Sure, I love making my own bliss balls out of dates, nuts and superfood powders...but when you're a college student, two-time employee and a human being who enjoys sleep and Netflix, convenience foods often win out! Especially if you can find processed foods that are, quite literally, as little processed as possible. 

While that last line my sound like an oxymoron, I think it actually highlights one moronic part of processed foods: some are better than others, but their "unhealthy" connotation hides that true distinction. 

2. I can get the calories I need with less volume and bloating

Along with less processed foods like the Pistachio Chewy Bites, though, I'm also enjoying plenty of bagels (Snackin' Freely, I'm dreaming of you!), Enjoy Life Foods mini cookies and cartons of So Delicious coconut yogurt. And you know what? My stomach is actually thanking me for the additions!

casey the college celiac
So many delicious bites...
Why could that be? Let's take a trip back to your high school nutrition class for a few minutes. When people expend energy on daily activities - like, in my case, walking to and from class, working out, and pacing while studying - they need to refuel with food. And what has more calories? One cup of broccoli or one cup of rice pasta? If you're trying to lose weight, sticking to unprocessed foods will probably help you reach that goal

However, if you're trying to gain or maintain, you might not be able to comfortably eat as many unprocessed calories as you need. Not to mention that, as a celiac or someone with dietary restrictions, you may not be able to enjoy the typical "calorie bombs" others can. (Case in point: PLNU's Cookie Monster, a frightening combination of an Oreo milkshake and a double shot of espresso.) 

casey the college celiac
Bigger is not always better...
What am I trying to stress with all of these examples? Basically, processed foods can help active people reach their calorie goals without stuffing themselves with larger potions of lower-calorie foods. Trust me. When it comes to bloating and general tummy distress, more vegetables isn't always better. I think Amanda from Running With Spoons said it best when she blogged, "My diet is nowhere near perfect, but it works perfectly for me."

3. I'm less stressed for time...and for cooking overall.

Another bonus of letting processed foods join the (edible) party? Your stress levels will probably go down. Just picture it: it's a Friday night, you're finally home from work and you're starving for dinner - and fast! What would be healthier in the long run? Ordering Papa John's because you're too tired to cook from scratch - or using a pre-made crust to make pizza at home? Although neither option is "perfect" nutrition-wise, at least cooking at home lets you control the ingredients and save money - while still dining in thirty minutes or less. 

Personally, inviting more processed foods into my kitchen has also let me enjoy a less strict weekly menu. When I first started cooking all of my own meals in college, I always stressed over planning and prepping my meals. Now that I've found processed pantry staples that I trust, though, I'm eating more "spontaneously" than ever before. After all, some days you just really don't know what you want for dinner until your stomach is growing and you see Food for Life tortillas in your freezer

What's the best part of being less stressed about your food? It may directly improve your digestive health. When it comes to your digestive system, your enteric nervous system actually calls the shots. So, if stress is sending fireworks through your nervous system, it can also trigger nausea, an increase stomach acid, constipation or diarrhea and plenty of other less-than-fun digestive symptoms. As a result, if eating "just right" is stressing you out, that may not really be the "right" diet for you. 

4. I'm enjoying life more!

When you read the title of this post, you may have been hoping I'd reveal the secret to gorging on your favorite treats without gaining weight. However, in this case, "healthier" also refers to my mindset. Since I started making processed foods a regular, instead of a rare treat, I'm experiencing the joy that can only come from eating the chocolate (mug) cake you've been craving all day. 

casey the college celiac swoffle
No words needed...
I'm not over thinking topping my smoothie bowls with goodies like Swoffle  - two chewy waffle cookies surrounding a caramel center that tastes like a mix between a light pastry, your favorite caramel candy and pure heaven. While these Dutch-inspired treats are gluten free, kosher and non-GMO, they do contain milk, eggs and a decent hit of sugar...but we don't taste - and certainly shouldn't live - solely by nutritional value. Are smiles accounted for on the wrapper?

I'm also spending less time thinking about food, reading labels at the grocery store (besides checking that it's gluten free, of course!) and cooking overall. I'm spending more time talking with friends for hours, going on random walks along the cliffs and doing nothing at all but enjoying a quiet moment

Food is part of life; it's how we fuel everything we do. But food shouldn't be the most important, the most time consuming or the most stressful part either. 

The Bottom Line

Like all diets, increasing your intake of processed foods isn't the right choice for everyone. Some, like Gluten Dude, may thrive on a more strict paleo lifestyle. However, from my personal experience, some people - those who strive for "perfectly" clean diets but never reach it, who struggle with stomach problems even when doing "everything right," or who just need to calm down and eat the dang cookie - could benefit from a few more packaged products in their pantry

casey the college celiac casey cromwell
Everyone's food journey is different...
but we're all searching for our "right diet."
Health is an intensely personal subject, and what works for one person might be an epic fail for another. All I know? My life has become more energized, calm and happy since I stopped vilifying processed foods. And that's definitely worth raising a glass (or a granola-loaded smoothie) to! 


What does "healthy eating" mean to you? What are your favorite (little or greatly) processed foods? Let me know your thoughts below!

Comments

  1. I 100% agree with you here! I can't imagine having NO processed foods. Get rid of my beloved nut butters or dark chocolate bars? NO THANK YOU! While I do try to limit the processed foods that I consume sometimes pre-made soup or a ready made frozen pizza is the way to go!

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    1. Nut buttes are life! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  2. I totally think there is a place for packaged foods. I am never going to make homemade almond milk or even nut butter, so if I look at the ingredients to make a conscious choice ti's way better for me to have that than not

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    1. I love the phrase "look at the ingredients to make a conscious choice." Such a great outlook on food; I totally agree!

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  3. I think this a very balance, practical approach to eating healthy. Great job

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Melissa. Happy new years!

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