Eating healthy seems challenging and expensive. With peoples' lifestyles becoming increasingly busy and stressful, it seems easier and even necessary to reach for convenience foods. Unfortunately, convenience is not often better for you. While ordering a pizza or stopping for burgers might save you some time, the levels of sodium, sugar, and other additives make the food unhealthy. If you become reliant on these convenience foods, you may experience higher healthcare costs in the future.
When talking about convenience foods, people refer to pre-prepared, commercially processed foods. Examples of convenience foods include TV dinners, canned or frozen produce, boxed snacks, fast food, etc. Some convenience foods are not as bad as others, but you should still be conscious of the specific additives and nutritional challenges of such foods.
Fresh food is free of the over-production that plagues most convenience foods. While you might not want to acknowledge it, cooking and preparing meals from scratch is the healthiest way to maintain a diet. Studies continuously confirm that cooking fresh leads to a healthier and more balanced diet. There are many reasons fresher is more beneficial, but the three primary reasons include nutrition, brain chemistry, inherent food triggers.
While a frozen dinner might have some nutritional benefits, it is likely not as balanced as a homemade meal. Many froze entrees focus on the carbohydrates and starches, which are filling but pack less of a nutrient punch. The same can be said for most fast food purchases. While the beef patty might be Ok if cooked fresh, the rest of the meal typically includes a big bun and an order of fries. Additionally, most fast food places use frozen beef patties, which contain high sodium levels.
When you cook fresh, lean meat and pair it with fresh vegetables and fruit, you receive all benefits without additives or preservatives. Fresh food will not contain nearly as much sodium, sugar, fat, or carbs as processed convenience foods.
Processed foods can become addictive. Potato chips, candy, fast food are all known for addictive properties. When consuming a diet of mostly convenience foods, your brain's reward centers trigger more cravings.
While people might initially turn to processed foods for convenience, it is not long before they feel compelled to buy them. What starts as a need for quick meals evolves into a potential addiction. The phrase "junk food junkie" might be said in jest, but it is a reality for many. Fortunately, the problem is reversible.
One Harvard study found that participants were less likely to return to convenience meals after six months of healthy, fresh eating. Additionally, when reviewing MRI scans of participants, the researchers noted that the brain's reward centers received greater stimulation from pictures of healthy foods than from unhealthy foods.
The problem with overly-processed foods is that they distort the reward centers in the brain, resulting in over-indulgence and over-eating. However, the same thing does not occur when consuming fresh, healthy foods.
Instead, the brain encourages a varied diet, and if someone eats too much of a healthy food, the brain turns off the reward center, encouraging the individual to stop. In other words, the natural disposition of the brain is to eat a healthy and balanced diet. Therefore, replacing convenience meals with healthy homecooked meals might reactivate the natural mechanisms of the brain.
The world is constantly changing, and with change often comes more demands, making it hard to focus on eating healthy. However, when you eat healthy, fresh food, you can actually become healthier, more energetic, and fresher.