Healthy food ingredients can seem subjective at first.

But today I’m going to drill down with exactly what healthy food ingredients are (and are not), and share with you how to ditch processed foods.

Processed Cupcake

Growing up, my middle name might as well have been Processed Cupcake because processed junk food is all I ever ate and, well, I just love that word cupcake.

I was also always sick.

My immune system was constantly crashing, with the culmination coming my sophomore and junior years of college when I had tonsillitis and/or pharyngitis about every other month.

Until I figured out what processed food truly consisted of and then replaced it with healthy food ingredients, I could not heal.

Part of my mission to this day is to teach you everything I know in order to help you also heal your gut…..and heal your life.

Top Dietary Change You Can Make TODAY

Healthy Food Ingredients {Ditch Processed Food} #guthealth #processedfoods

I want to share with you the top dietary change you can implement in your life today.

I know what you think I’m going to tell you:

  1. Go gluten and/or grain and/or wheat free – and no, they are not all one-in-the same
  2. Or dairy free
  3. Maybe soy free
  4. How about sugar free
  5. Perhaps adopt a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle
  6. Oooooohhhh maybe the secret is in the GAPS (Gut and Psychology Syndrome) Diet or SCD (specific carbohydrate diet)
  7. Then again, maybe she’s going to say, “low-FODMAP” is where the healing is at
  8. Keto, must go Keto

Nope. Nah. Nada. Not at all.

I’m not going to tell you any of those. 

I do not think any of them qualify as the TOP dietary change you can make for your gut healing efforts today. (pssstttt….the caveat is if you have a diagnosed condition that requires one of them, ie. Gluten free because you’ve been diagnosed with Celiac Disease.)

Here is what it is – the top dietary change I think you can implement in your life today…

Cook at home and don’t include any overly processed foods. 

If you want to listen to this podcast episode instead of reading more, you can do so with the A Gutsy Girl podcast episode 45: Bites #4. The bites episodes are short episodes, just 10-15 minutes long and filled with practical information for overall health that you can implement today.

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If you liked this bite-sized A Gutsy Girl podcast episode, share it! I’m super grateful if you do.

Now, let’s break it all down more.

First, I didn’t say to simply avoid processed foods because every time I do someone gets angry saying, “everything is processed.”

Well, technically, not necessarily, but what I mean is to consume foods in their whole state vs. packaged containing several ingredients.

Cook at home

I get it.

Healthy cooking at home is sometimes not fun, other times perceived as being not as good and finally it’s not always easy.

Let’s face it, just because some people love cooking and are great at it, doesn’t mean the majority are. I’d argue that the majority – at least here in the United States – are not.

But even still, I’m adamant and a real stickler about this: if you are serious about healing your gut you MUST cook healthy recipes mostly at home and skip eating out. 

As I said on page 46 in A Gutsy Girl’s Bible: an approach to healing the gut:

You don’t have to be Martha Stewart. You don’t even have to love the kitchen, but you do have to figure out how to whip up the most very basic things on your own, at home in your own kitchen. It is shockingly surprising to me how many people don’t know how to do this, or don’t want to. McDonald’s won’t heal your gut….if you want to maintain control over what you’re putting into your body, you need to learn to create it yourself.

It is the only way to know exactly what’s in the food you are eating. 

Most people are not going out to eat 3-4 times a week at a Plant Organic Cafe or high-end, organic-only, Whole Foods restaurant. And if you are, tell me all your secrets for that lifestyle. Actually, tell us all, because we all want in!

When you cook at home you are the ingredient supplier and you know exactly what is going into everything on your plate. And remember, I’m not talking about weighing your food and measuring out portion sizes. I’m talking about choosing healthy INGREDIENTS. 

This conversation is strictly about ingredients.

Okay, so we have established that you need to cook at home. Now, let’s chat about how to cook at home, and what ingredients to use.

Healthy Food Ingredients {Ditch Processed Food}

Click HERE to save healthy food ingredients for later.

Healthy Food Ingredients {Ditch Processed Food} #podcast #unprocessedfoods

Simple Ingredients, Healthy Foods

First of all, I can’t start this part of the equation out without telling you that in order to cook more at home without including overly processed foods you do NOT need complex gut-healing recipe books.

If you like to cook, then go for it. But if you like to cook and you’re good at it, then you’re probably not interested in this conversation anyways. 

This is for the majority of you.

The secret to this part is that you must keep it simple.

You must learn to figure out the foods you like best and then how to assemble them into quick and simple and healthy meals. 

Part of what helped me heal was cutting out those complicated recipes and replacing them with simple concoctions which consisted of nutritious foods (for me!) that could be easily customized to fit my mood or the ingredients I already had on hand.

While a recipe with 12 ingredients, 7 of which are “good for the gut,” might be a lovely dinner, when your’e beginning on your healing journey, it can also be overwhelming and will likely make you more confused than ever. 

Hear me loud and clear: good food, food that heals, does not need to be complicated.

And now for the shameless plug…..THIS Is exactly what I’ve done with the 100+ Creations in A Gutsy Girl’s Bible: a 21-day approach to healing the gut. I’ve taken simple, whole ingredients and put them together forming easy recipes that taste great so you can get on board with this method of cooking at home.

Here is an example from page 236 in the book. It’s called, “Thankful Bowl” and includes:

  • 1 pound of cooked ground turkey or 2 cups diced turkey
  • 4 cups of squash or sweet potatoes
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 celery stalks
  • chopped apples
  • nuts of choice for garnish
Thankful bowl #guthealing #glutenfree

You will find every single one of these main ingredients at a normal, basic grocery store.

Don’t like that one? Fine, there are 99+ more.

The point is that it’s simple, whole ingredients that go together in an organized fashion. 

I’ve taken this guesswork out of the equation for you.

What Does “Processed Food” Mean?

Moving on to this word processed and what I mean by it.

Here are my top 3 issues with processed foods, as they relate to sickness:

  1. Processed foods contribute to inflammation and inflammation throughout the body causes disease and sickness. source
  2. Processed foods are stripped of invaluable vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. They are pumped full of other artificial things which your body doesn’t know how to properly process.
  3. Processed foods will make you want more. The more processed foods we eat, the more we crave. We become hungrier, less satisfied and gain more rotten gut bacteria. Yes, it’s a vicious cycle. As long as we’re trapped in this cycle, we’re prone to imminent or lingering illness. In Episode 35 of the podcast, Illie aka recommended a read around this topic, “The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor.”

Okay, so back to what I mean by processed.

NOVA Classification

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Healthy Food Ingredients {Ditch Processed Food} #guthealth NOVA classification

In case you were not aware, there is a popular system to classify processed foods that was introduced in 2009, called the NOVA classification.

It lists four categories detailing the degree to which a food is processed: 

  1. Unprocessed or minimally processed: Unprocessed foods include the natural edible food parts of plants and animals. Examples include: fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, meats, and milk 
  2. Processed culinary ingredients: Food ingredients derived from a minimally processed food by pressing, refining, grinding, or milling. Examples include oils from plants, seeds, and nuts, or flour and pastas formed from whole grains.
  3. Processed foods: Foods from either of the two previous groups that have added salt, sugar, or fats. Some canned fruits and vegetables, some cheeses, freshly made bread, and canned fish are examples. 
  4. Ultra processed foods: Foods that go beyond the incorporation of salt, sweeteners, or fat to include artificial colors and flavors and preservatives that promote shelf stability, preserve texture, and increase palatability. Examples are sugary drinks, cookies, some crackers, chips, and breakfast cereals, some frozen dinners, and luncheon meats. One study using data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that ultra-processed foods comprised about 60% of total calories in the U.S. diet.


But when I say you’re best off by avoiding processed foods, I’m talking about many of those included in #3: processed foods and all of those included in #4: Ultra processed foods.

Healthy Diet: Where to Start

If you want more drilling down on this topic and/or if you’re looking to go beyond the processed foods, Week 3 – Diet – in Gut Healing for Beginners will be hugely beneficial.

During this week, I break down:

  1. Allergy vs intolerance
  2. Food lists
  3. Gut healing foods
  4. Which diet to choose
  5. Reading labels for gut health
  6. How to use your journal for drilling down with foods for you
  7. And reintroducing foods

Learn more about Gut Healing for Beginners HERE.

More Tips for Cutting Processed Foods

If healing your gut, cutting processed foods, and keeping illness at bay is a top priority, then there is an easy way to go about it all.

Use these additional 6 tips to start.

6 Tips for Cutting Processed Foods {that the food industry does not want you to know}

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Healthy Food Ingredients {Ditch Processed Food} #guthealth how to cut processed foods #processed

1. Substitutions.

Try to find unprocessed alternatives to your favorite foods. I do this daily. 

For example, you’re craving granola and milk for breakfast. Instead of buying the processed, pre-packaged granola from the store, try a better option like making Grain Free Slow-Cooked Pumpkin Granola Clusters.

And for your milk? You could always enjoy your own homemade Vanilla-Mint Almond Milk. The added benefit here is that so often you’ll save money!

Don’t have “time?” You might need to find some or find a super high-quality milk like the ones in THIS post.

2. Read labels.

Remember, beware of marketing words. The brand promise is usually not what it seems. Believe me, so much of it is a lie.

Just read the ingredients on a label. Can’t pronounce it? Don’t buy it. Are you seeing more than a handful of ingredients? Then beware.

And guess what? Just because it says “gluten-free” and it’s a large, well-known company does not mean that it’s a healthy, unprocessed food. In fact, your gluten-free diet might be keeping you sick. If you want premium-quality ingredients, then you must read labels!

3. Learn.

You must educate yourself on ingredients and the food you are feeding your body. Know the difference between various health benefits for you personally.

Understand various ingredient offerings and how they are helping or hurting your gut-healing efforts.

If you don’t know where to start, I’d invite you to grab my book, A Gutsy Girl’s Bible: a 21-day approach to healing the gut.

For highly detailed information, see above and my course on Gut Healing for Beginners.

4. Healthy fats.

Do not be afraid of healthy fats. In recent years, fat continues to get a bad reputation. But that’s a myth and I promise that when I healed my gut I ate a ton of healthy fats including olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, and even butter for those short chain fatty acids. In fact, I still do.

Learn all about what constitutes healthy fats HERE.

5. Fresh produce.

As often as possible, incorporate fresh produce into your cooking (and even baking). Things like green beans, the leafy green like kale, broccoli, cucumbers, radishes, etc.

Put together and easy salad packed with fresh produce and watch your total daily grams of fiber increase. Something as simple as these additions can help get the essential nutrients your body needs. By the way, processed food strips that away.

6. Eat a wide variety of foods.

One thing you do not have to do is cut your favorite processed foods out cold turkey. In fact, doing so might have you crave them even more.

The goal is to simply eat a wide variety of foods. Look for foods with a diverse nutrient panel. Try to incorporate vitamin B12, Vitamin C, vitamins a and D, vitamin e and K, etc.

A balanced diet, one that ultimately reduces or eliminates the ultra-processed foods, is (or should be) diverse.

If you can get rid of processed foods and consumer-ready products in your diet, you’ll be healthier. Chronic pain diminishes and gut health increases.

This is a simple fact, and I know because I am living proof.

I know it’s not easy.

But I also know it’s worth it.

If you’re feeling so overwhelmed with where to start because the online noise is telling you this diet, that diet, or the other diet know that you can choose this far simpler approach.

Will it be the thing and the diet that heals you for good, forever? I don’t know. It might be and it might not be. But it’s the best place you can start where you’re at with what you have today.

If you liked this post, you might also enjoy:

  1. A Gutsy Girl’s List of 36 Essential Cooking and Baking Tips
  2. 4 Benefits of Knowing Basic Cooking and Baking Skills
  3. How to Host an Unprocessed Holiday Party


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  1. Haven’t eaten processed GARBAGE in roughly 12 years and I am not exaggerating at all! I would love to go out for a meal with you, or better yet, cook something amazing (from your little cookbook perhaps) on GiGi Eats!!! 😀


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