How to Transition From Junk Food to Real Food in 6 Steps

Written by Reshma Adwar, DPT

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with grape flavored candy. Jolly Ranchers, chewing gum, lollipops, you name it. But I rarely touched grapes! They just didn’t taste grape-y enough to my little palate which I had routinely bombarded with “grape flavored” foods.

Unfortunately, we live in an era in which processed food is so ubiquitous, our taste buds tend to have a bias towards foods that are overly sweet, salty, fatty, or have strong artificial flavors. We can get so accustomed to these flavors that natural foods end up tasting bland. This can lead to a cycle of consuming processed foods more and more over natural foods, causing a host of chemicals to wind up in our bodies and create allergies, illnesses, and adverse reactions.

Natural foods support our vitality by providing us with amazing vitamins, minerals, enzymes, electrolytes, and of course, the much-needed macronutrients in their most minimally processed form. Below are some smart tips to recalibrate your taste buds to go from junk food junkie to natural food gourmand:

1. Start with sweets: Fruits are nature’s candy! Loaded with deliciousness, these are the easiest things to start including in your diet that can substitute for high-sugar treats. With fruit, your palate will be flooded with so much flavor that there will be no need for artificially flavored sweets.

2. Look for color: Our bodies are naturally wired to search for the most colorful foods. To our prehistoric ancestors, bright color indicated nutrition density and food safety. Food manufacturers are aware of this, so they often artificially color our foods to take advantage of our evolutionary senses (hot pink M&M, anyone?). So, tune back in to your evolutionary senses, and choose natural foods with colors that appeal to you. When your visual sense is involved, you are more likely to appreciate the flavor of the natural food.

3. Stop and smell the…: Some of my most distinct memories of my childhood are my mom preparing an Indian meal in the evening. So, whenever I smell garlic and onions sautéing, I am immediately reminded of her, and I immediately get hungry. In addition to our visual sense, food must satisfy our olfactory sense. So next time you are grocery shopping or eating, pick up foods and smell them. Here again, start with the smells that appeal to you, and you’ll begin to find natural foods that you like.

4. Add herbs and spices: I confess: I like salt! Sometimes I’ll cook a dish and my husband will devour it as-is, and I’ll sit there and complain it’s not salty enough, my hand already reaching for the shaker. But through my culinary adventures, I realized there was a way around my addiction, namely herbs and spices. When you add herbs and spices to foods, you add flavor, which satisfies your taste buds without the need to add more salt or fat or sugar. Dried herbs pack more of a flavor punch than fresh, but fresh offer a clean herbaceousness. Choose either or both depending on the end result you want. With spices, toasting them whole and then grinding them brings out their oils and deepens their flavor. But if you don’t have the time or the tools, spices as-is are fine too. By adding herbs and spices, you take your food to a new taste level and say bye-bye to bland!

5 Take a cooking class, or just practice in your own kitchen: So many people rely on pre-packaged, processed, or take-out food because they don’t feel comfortable in the kitchen or are seriously pressed for time. This leads to the processed-food-dependency I described earlier. By taking a cooking class, you will learn the right tools to have in the kitchen, the right techniques for cooking certain foods, and of course, a few go-to recipes that you have already tried. By practicing more in the kitchen, you become more efficient in the kitchen, and the meal that used to take you two hours to make, you’re able to make in 30 minutes. Meals cooked at home are generally quality and quantity controlled, and tend to incorporate more natural ingredients.

6. Plan ahead: I have another confession: At one of my first jobs out of college, we used to keep a stash of chocolate truffles in a drawer, and every day at about 5 pm, I used to shove a handful in my mouth. Because I was hungry, and because there was nothing else to eat. I had to wise up pretty quickly since my clothes started getting tight, so I learned to plan my snacks. Now, I make homemade trail mix – nuts, seeds, a sprinkling of dried fruit – and take a little with me to work every day, so when the slump hits, I have something healthy to eat. Planning works for every meal of the day. If you know what you are going to eat, and you have the ingredients on hand, you are less likely to pick up the phone for take-out or eat something processed.

Making the transition back to natural foods can be a long and hard one. We are comforted by flavors we already know and love, and gosh, processed foods can be addictive! The key is to go at your own pace and incorporate natural foods little by little into your diet to the point where you are crowding out the artificial and processed stuff. In the end, making the switch can have some serious benefits to your overall health and wellness, and soon those grape-flavored candies will have nothing on a fresh bunch of cool, crunchy, juicy, tart red grapes.

Have your own suggestions on how to return to eating natural foods? Have a success story? Share it with us in the comments section below.

Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.

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