Natural vs. Processed Foods: Your Ultimate Guide to Nutritional Choices

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Diet TipsRunners Diet
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David Dack

Are you a fitness fanatic trying to squeeze every ounce of performance from your workouts?

Or maybe you’re just curious about how the food you eat affects your body.

Either way, get ready to dive headfirst into the tantalizing world of food choices.

Picture this: You’re at the crossroads of your fitness journey, pondering over two paths – one leads to the land of natural foods, the other to the realm of processed foods.

But which path should you tread to reach your goals?

Today, we’re unraveling the mysteries surrounding these culinary choices. From the science behind them to which ones are your fitness allies, we’ve got your questions covered.

Ready? Let’s go.

Natural Foods

You’re strolling down the aisles of a health store, and all you see are kale smoothies and tofu sandwiches. You might think, “Is this the only way to embrace natural foods?”

Well, think again!

Natural foods are not just about veganism and super strict diets; they’re about real, wholesome nutrition.

In simple terms, natural foods are the goodies that haven’t been through a wild makeover in a food lab. They’re the fresh veggies, juicy fruits, unprocessed meats, and whole grains that come straight from Mother Nature’s pantry.

And here’s the kicker: choosing a natural food-packed diet is like giving your body a VIP pass to the wellness club.

These foods are a goldmine of nutrients, with no sneaky additives or preservatives trying to crash the party. Imagine indulging in whole-wheat bread that’s miles healthier than its processed cousin or snacking on oranges instead of settling for sugary orange juice.

Natural foods are bursting with vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and all the good stuff your body craves. They’re the unsung heroes that can help control blood sugar levels, lower cholesterol, fend off heart diseases, and even aid in shedding those pesky pounds.

And trust us, that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

Why Natural Foods are Better?

Natural foods are packed with essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and all the “good” carbs you need. They’re your body’s best friends, offering hydration, fiber, and fatty acids to keep you tip-top.

But that’s not all!

Whole foods are the ultimate defenders of your health. They’ve got the superhero power to regulate blood sugar levels, send cholesterol packing, and keep those pesky cardiovascular diseases at bay.

Say goodbye to the risk of diabetes, shed those extra pounds, and welcome your fittest self, both physically and mentally.

The list of benefits is so long that it could fill a library. But don’t worry, you’re getting the big picture here – natural foods are like the secret keys to unlocking your body’s full potential.

The Foods to Eat

Let’s stock up your nutritional arsenal with some powerhouse natural foods. These are the real game-changers, the superheroes of the food world, here to give you the most bang for your buck:

Fresh Vegetables and Fruits:

Picture a rainbow on your plate – kale, asparagus, cabbage, broccoli, spinach, Brussels sprouts, cherries, pears, berries, apples, and plums. They’re your ticket to a vibrant and energetic life.

Lean Sources of Meat:

Think free-range chicken, wild fish, grass-fed beef, and fresh fish/shellfish. They’re the protein-packed champions that’ll keep you strong and thriving.

Omega-3 Foods:

Eggs, sardines, wild salmon, and herring. These are like brain food, keeping your mind sharp and your heart healthy.

Whole Grains:

Quinoa, amaranth, barley, whole grain rye, buckwheat, millet, and Kasha. They’re the hearty grains that’ll fuel your adventures and keep you full of energy.

Beans and Legumes:

Lentils and chickpeas are the muscle builders, providing a plant-based protein punch that’ll keep you going.

Nuts: Walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pistachios, and pecans – the crunchy power snacks that are not only delicious but also full of healthy fats and nutrients.


Flax, Chia, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds. They’re the tiny powerhouses that pack a nutritional punch, giving you all the fiber and healthy fats you need.

Processed Foods

Picture a bustling food lab where scientists and chefs work their magic to transform nature’s ingredients into the tantalizing treats that stock our shelves.

These culinary wizards have four key missions:

  • Postpone Spoilage: They want your food to stay fresh for as long as possible. No one likes a wilted salad or stale bread, right?
  • Make Life Easier: Convenience is king. They aim to save you time in the kitchen so you can spend it on more exciting pursuits.
  • Increase Shelf Life: The longer that cereal or canned soup sits on the shelf, the better. It’s all about ensuring your food stays good to eat.
  • Profit for Manufacturers: Ah, yes, the heart of the matter. Food companies strive to make a tasty profit from their creations, which keeps them in business.

But here’s the catch: processed foods usually have more than one ingredient, and that’s where things can get tricky. These modern marvels of flavor often rely on artificial sugars, dyes, preservatives, and less-than-healthy fats, like trans and saturated fats. These are the puzzle pieces that create the delicious, convenient, and long-lasting foods we know.

Think about it; processed foods include a vast range of items. From canned goods to packaged snacks, from crisps to microwaved meals – they’re everywhere. Even your beloved fast food joints like McDonald’s and Burger King play their part in this culinary universe.

Additional resource – Vitamin D for runners

I see Processed Foods Everywhere

It’s a foodie’s dilemma: the invasion of processed foods. They’ve made themselves right at home in our kitchens, and it seems like they’re here to stay. In fact, if you were to wander down the aisles of your local grocery store, you’d find that a whopping 9 out of 10 items on those shelves have been touched by the hand of processing in some way or another.

But hold on a second – this isn’t just a tale of convenience and cravings. It’s also a warning, a harbinger of potentially not-so-great things for our health. The more processed foods become a staple in our diets, the more we need to think about the impact on our well-being.

Additional resource – Sodium for runners

They are Bad

Processed foods may look enticing with all their flashy packaging and convenience, but here’s the harsh reality: they’re energy bombs, packing loads of calories with minimal nutritional value.

So, imagine this: you’re fueling your body with a diet high in preservatives, artificial ingredients, and a generous helping of added sugars and fats. You might as well be handing your body a chemistry experiment.

Yep, it’s a chemical and structural assault on your system.

Keep up this processed food binge, and guess what?

You’re setting yourself up for a not-so-pleasant rendezvous with a slew of health issues. I’m talking about obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, and even some types of cancer.

These conditions were rare sightings in the world of health before processed foods, particularly sugar and flour-laden delights, waltzed onto the food scene.

Are Processed Foods Always a Bad Choice?

Hold on to your hats because I’m about to drop a knowledge bomb: eating processed foods isn’t always the villain in our nutrition story.

Yep, you heard me right.

There are situations where processed foods can strut their stuff on your plate and still keep you in the realm of good health.

Now, before you gasp in disbelief, let me break it down.

Not all processed foods are equal culprits in the grand scheme of your nutrition plan. In fact, some of them are not just harmless but downright beneficial when consumed in moderation.

I know it might sound like I’m speaking heresy to some of you, but hear me out.

Here’s the deal: the act of processing doesn’t magically turn food into the enemy. Take milk and certain juices, for example. They can be fortified with essential nutrients like vitamin D and calcium, giving you a nutritional boost without the guilt trip.

And let’s not forget about dried herbs – those little flavor powerhouses. Cilantro, chili, ginger, basil, parsley, and oregano, to name a few, are packed with antioxidants and other health-boosting goodies.

Now, here’s where the magic happens. Canned fruit. When fresh fruits are nowhere in sight, canned versions can swoop in as your trusty sidekick. Just make sure you’re not drowning in syrup, and you’re good to go.

The Good

Good examples of lightly processed foods include (but are not limited to) hard-boiled eggs, pre-cut apple slices, and frozen vegetables.

The Bad

Here is a list of heavily processed ingredients and foods to avoid

  • High-fructose corn syrup.
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Artificial dyes
  • Trans fats
  • Fruit or vegetable juices,
  • Fruit canned in heavy syrup
  • Food in a package, can, or box.
  • Food additives such as sodium nitrate, propyl, monosodium glutamate, and bromate.
  • Potato chips
  • Processed meats, especially chicken fingers, bacon, sausage, hot dogs, fish sticks, potted meats, deli meats, and Spam—the brand of canned cooked meat.
  • Salted and/or seasoned nuts.
  • Sweetened yogurts.
  • Ice cream bars

To Conclude

As a rule of thumb, the ideal human diet should revolve around whole and natural food, not food that was manufactured in a lab.

Eating junk food can only do more harm than good—especially if you are trying to lose weight or improve your athletic performance.

Instead, eat primarily real and natural foods for the best nutrition.

One of my favorite healthy eating mottos is, “If your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, then it’s not food.”

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