The Ultimate Guide for How to Cut Out Processed Foods (For Good)

A person evaluating processed meat from the fridge.

If you're aiming to clean up your diet and focus on more nutritious whole foods, cutting out processed items is an important first step. Highly processed snacks, meals and beverages may be convenient, but their negative impacts on health make them worth avoiding as much as possible.

What's Wrong With Processed Foods?

Processed foods undergo significant mechanical, chemical or heat processing before being packaged and sold. This depletes many of the beneficial nutrients found in whole foods. Furthermore, most processed items contain:

These attributes are what make processed foods taste addictive yet lack nutrients to keep you feeling full and energized. Consuming too many has been linked to weight gain, chronic disease risks, high blood pressure and more.

In fact, a recent study found that eating ultra-processed foods was linked to a staggering 32 health issues, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. The chemicals, preservatives, and lack of whole nutrients in these foods can wreak havoc on the body over time.

So how can you cut out processed foods for good? Follow this guide.

Learn to Read Labels: The first step is being able to identify which foods are highly processed. Read nutrition labels and avoid items with lengthy ingredient lists containing unfamiliar chemicals, preservatives or added sugars/oils. Stick to products with whole food ingredients you recognize. Pay particular attention to sneaky sources of added sugars, like high fructose corn syrup, which can be hidden even in savory processed foods.

Remove Temptation: Clean out your pantry, fridge and freezer of any lingering processed foods like chips, cookies, frozen meals, sugary cereals and soft drinks. Removing these items from your environment eliminates temptation. Replace them with wholesome, nutritious options like fresh fruits and veggies, unsalted nuts, and plain yogurt. Having healthy choices on hand sets you up for success.

Find Whole Food Swaps: For every processed item you cut out, find a wholesome replacement. Swap breakfast cereal for oatmeal, frozen meals for pre-prepped whole food meals, soda for infused water or tea, and so on. Get creative with nutritious swaps to avoid feeling deprived. For example, instead of sugary instant oatmeal packets, make a big batch of steel-cut oats to portion out during the week. Top with fresh berries, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a dollop of almond butter for a filling breakfast.

Meal Prep: One of the biggest pitfalls is reaching for processed convenience items when hungry and unprepared. Get in the habit of meal prepping snacks and meals with whole foods in advance. Make double batches of items to freeze extras. Dedicating a few hours on the weekend to prepping can save you time and money during the busy week. Stock up on food storage containers and mason jars for easy portioning.

Focus on One Meal: Start by cleaning up one meal per day, like cutting out processed breakfast items first. Once that becomes routine, tackle the next meal until your entire day consists of whole, minimally processed foods. Breakfast is a great place to start, since so many convenient options like cereal, pastries, and breakfast sandwiches are highly processed. Build a wholesome breakfast routine and expand from there.

Make Eating Out Smarter: When eating out, choose restaurants with fresh, nutrient-dense menu options. Ask for sauces and dressings on the side. Opt for baked, grilled or steamed proteins and veggies over fried items. Look for keywords on the menu like "house-made," "grilled," and "vegetable-forward" which indicate less processed options. Don't be afraid to make special requests to accommodate your whole foods focus.

Plan Ahead: Meal planning is key for sticking to a whole foods diet. Each week, map out meals ahead of time so you can grocery shop accordingly and avoid falling back on processed convenience options. Make a master list of go-to recipes featuring whole food ingredients to keep meal planning efficient. Stock your kitchen with the tools and gadgets needed to prep ingredients with ease.

A person evaluating processed meat from the fridge.

Whole Food Staples

As you cut out processed items, stock up on these versatile whole food staples:

With preparation and commitment, adopting a minimally-processed, whole foods based lifestyle is absolutely achievable! You'll feel better, have more energy and reduce disease risks.

Upgrade Your Health with swiig

Making the transition to a processed-free life takes time and patience with yourself. Celebrate the small wins along the way, like discovering a new whole foods recipe your family loves or having the energy to power through your workouts. Be kind to yourself if you slip up occasionally. Each day, each meal is a new opportunity to nourish your body with the goodness of whole foods.

Ready to take your health to the next level? Explore swiig's collection of clean, whole food-based products to support your journeyof cutting out processed items. From organic protein powders to nutritious snacks and functional ingredients, swiig makes it easy to nourish your body with the good stuff.


Healthline - 24 Clean Eating Tips to Lose Weight and Feel Great

Healthline - Eating Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to 32 Health Issues Like Heart Disease

National Library of Medicine - Processed Food: Nutrition, Safety, and Public Health

Healthline - How to Read Food Labels Without Being Tricked

Diet Doctor - Kitchen clean-out

Eat This, Not That- 15 Homemade Swaps for the Worst Ultra-Processed Foods

The Daily Meal - The 11 Biggest Mistakes You're Making With Meal Prepping

Eat Smarter - How to Make Healthy Choices when Eating Out

Well+Good - I Cut Out Processed Foods for a Month to Quit My ‘Healthy’ Eating Habits

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    Nutrition (per serving)