GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Ultra-processed foods are so-readily available that they now comprise 60% of the American diet. This is alarming, considering ultra-processed foods have been linked to a higher risk of developing obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and some types of cancer. Plus, people who eat diets high in ultra-processed foods tend to eat 500 calories more each day than people who eat less processed foods. 

Katie Francisco, registered dietitian from Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, provides tips for reducing our consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Tips to reduce Ultra-Processed Foods Consumption

  • Read ingredient lists carefully. Avoid foods with hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors or strange-sounding substances. The less ingredients the better.
  • Make it yourself. Create your own salad dressing, protein drinks and yogurt parfait without the artificial ingredients.
  • Focus on the store perimeter. That’s where most of the unprocessed foods like produce, legumes, nuts, dairy, meat and fish—are located. 
  • Skip creams and sweeteners in your coffee or tea. If you struggle to drink it black then try adding local honey, milk or unsweetened almond milk instead.
  • Plan snacks in advance. Be prepared with fresh fruit, veggies or homemade trail mix to curb your munchies.

Food Swaps

Here are some easy “swaps” to reduce your processed food consumption:

  1. Choose air-popped popcorn or almonds instead of chips or crackers.
  2. Try making your own salad dressings with olive oil and vinegar, instead of using store-bought dressings which tend to have a lot of added ingredients. 
  3. Drink more water and avoid sugar-sweetened beverages. If water is too plain, try adding mint, cucumber or fruit like strawberry or kiwi slices to add some flavor. Sparkling waters without artificial sweeteners are another option.
  4. Choose plain yogurt and add your own berries plus local honey instead of the pre-flavored variety.

Check out these recipes for funky take on trail mix and tasty twists to popcorn. 

Trail Mix Energy Bites


  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup creamy natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup peanuts or almonds
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/3 cup raisins or dried cranberries or dried
  •  cherries
  • 1 Tbsp. chia seeds


  • Stir all ingredients together in a large bowl until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
  • Remove and shape into small 1-inch balls, or press into the bottom of a parchment-lined baking pan

Trail Mix Popcorn 


  • 4 cups popped pop corn 
  • 1/4 cup chopped cashews
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries 
  • 3 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
  • 3 tablespoons dark chocolate chips 
  • 2 tablespoons oats 
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil or melted coconut oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey 
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 


  • Place popcorn, cashews, cranberries, pumpkin seeds, chocolate chips and oats in a large bowl. 
  • Pour oil on top and toss until well combined. 
  • Drizzle honey on top and mix gently until coated. 
  • Season with cinnamon and serve.

Parmesan Herb Popcorn


  • 4 tablespoons Olive Oil +2 tablespoons Olive Oil (divided)
  • 1 teaspoon Basil
  • 1 teaspoon Oregano
  • 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder 
  • 1 teaspoon Sea Salt 
  • 1/3 cup popcorn kernels 
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese 


  • In a small saucepan, over medium heat, combine the oil, oregano, basil, garlic powder and sea salt. Stir to combine. Remove from the heat and set aside. 
  • In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the popcorn kernels to the hot oil and cover the saucepan with a lid. Gently shake the saucepan by moving it back and forth. Once the kernels start popping, continue to shake the pan, until the popping stops. 
  • Once done, pour the spiced oil mixture over the popped corn along with the grated Parmesan and toss to combine. Add additional salt if needed and serve.

For more information on avoiding processed foods and more recipes, check out the following websites:

Information courtesy of Katie Francisco, RDN

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