One great healthy eating habit to get into is reading the ingredient label before buying anything off of the grocery shelf. The fewer chemicals and processed food substances that are in a product, the healthier it is. In fact, many dietitians are now saying that if possible, you should avoid food additives completely.
Food writer Michael Pollan makes the suggestion that if your grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, don't eat it.
That's not to say you should avoid things in the produce section just because you are unfamiliar with it. Smart phones make it possible to look up foods right from the grocery store, so you can learn about different foods. While items like celery and tomatoes are familiar to us, there are many other things on the shelf that you may not have a clue how to use. Root vegetables like sun chokes and jicima may be unfamiliar to most people, but they are real foods, and can be a part of a healthy diet.
However there are many things that are included in processed foods that aren't naturally occurring. Some food additives have obvious chemical names. Names like'calcium sulfate' or 'thyamin hydrochloride' are in many foods that are on the shelf. There are some other items that may not sound like they come from a laboratory, bat many of them do. Items like high fructose corn syrup or citric acid are processed items that are added to your food.
Many processed foods also contain artificial and natural coloring and flavoring. Unfortunately, labeling laws don't require food processors to list exactly what those 'natural' ingredients are. The only specifications is that they must come from a natural source. It doesn't say that those ingredients aren't processed. They are.
A good general rule of thumb is, if you don't recognize it as being a naturally occurring food, don't include it in your diet.
They jury is still out on the overall long-term health risks associated with processed foods. More studies are coming out on a regular basis that call into question the safety of the many additives that we are including in our daily meals.
What is commonly agreed upon is that minimally processed food is the healthiest. Stick with foods that are closer to the way nature provides them, and you will be well on your way to a healthy eating plan.