I'm so happy that you are concerned with the carbon footprint that you leave on earth, so many people don't even know what that means! I'll save carbon footprints for another day. But I'm so glad you asked about healthy food! This is one of my favorite subjects.
I do think that you're on your way to making a difference in regard to carbon footprints and healthy living when you notice that your garbage has changed! When you have less cans, bottles and boxes to throw away it's tangible proof you're doing something right. Most processed foods come in that sort of packaging. Keep up the good work! Another thing you can do to cut down on landfill, carbon footprints and protect wildlife all at the same time is use cloth bags (sustainable)instead of plastic or paper. The thrift stores are chock full of them and you can get them very cheap. Personally, I like the washable ones the best, they're soft and can be folded/stuffed in to another bag or your purse. Speaking of landfill, as you move ahead with a healthier lifestyle your dry garbage will reduce even more and you will find that recycling and reuse of what you do end up with will be easier and easier to deal with. I'm following a lady's blog who uses the paper bags to do art on, and quite good art to boot!
Oops! Ran off on a tangent. Back to the issue. It is true that cheeses and some other foods such as tofu are highly processed, and what is most important about these foods it that they be organic whenever possible. If you eat no other organic foods milk, cheese and tofu should be organic. Unprocessed foods are foods that are direct from or closest to nature. Fruits and vegetables are whole foods direct from nature, whole grains and beans have been processed but in a very natural and simple way, mostly just separated and dried. Highly processed foods are foods that generally come in cans, bottles, boxes, and plastic wrapping or bags, they are shipped thousands of miles to the centralized processing plants along with all the other ingredients needed to produce the product creating untold amounts of carbon. Potato vs Potato chip, the potato is simply a vegetable straight out of the ground, whereas the potato chip, starting out simply as a potato, has been put through a rigorous process of many steps and finally dumped into a bags and shipped thousands of miles adding to our carbon footprints. The same story goes for whole grain breads vs white bread, though, even whole grain bread has quite a few steps to its process before we eat it. I often think that is where the average person gets confused about processed foods. I would say there is a significant difference between the highly processed foods like white bread and the nominally processed such as whole grain breads.
I would love to think that all grown foods were good for you. The problem is that produce which has been commercially grown is heavily treated with chemicals and pesticides both on the plants and in the soil. It's known as Agribusiness because they make big money growing hundreds and hundreds of acres of one particular type of food. The problem with this technique is that the single food has to fend for itself all alone with no companion plants to help protect or feed the predator. Organic farming on the other hand is all about building up and fortifying the soil and companion planting. When you plant a variety of plants/foods each plant has aspects that augment the other plants/foods. An example would be, tomatoes grown with peppers and onions have protection from certain caterpillars because peppers and onions attract the beneficial bugs that attack that certain caterpillar that would normally devastate the tomato plant. Also companion planting provides ways for each plant to attract or repel certain beneficial bugs or pests to the garden, they are working symbiotically. There are tons of books on the subject of companion planting and is viewed as the best way to control pests in a garden. One of the best ways to build up and fortify your soil is to compost your wet garbage and start a worm box, there are a ton of websites that offer great advice on composting and how to build and maintain a worm box, see below.
I would like to suggest several books that I found helpful in my striving to be/eat healthy. One is Nicolas Perricone's The Wrinkle Cure and the Perricone Promise and I do need to warn you however that he can be quite steadfast in his beliefs, but has a great foundation for eating well. Another favorite of mine is Andrew Weil's Eight Weeks to Optimum Health, I did his program and felt so wonderful! He has a more comfortable and easy going attitude.
I know how hard it is to maintain a healthy diet while not spend too much money or throwing out spoiled food. One of the things that I do to save money is to eat only fresh foods that are in season. Sometimes this means eating the same old thing over and over, but it provides a wonderful opportunity to build your own new and exciting repertoire of tasty recipes. Don't even get me started on herbs and spices for changing up a meal! So the next time you walk into the produce department think of a rainbow. Try to purchase the most colorful foods. All those colors show you that they are full of antioxidants and vitamins. They should be vibrant and full of life. There are some links here for you to start your adventure into healthy foods. There is a list of foods crops that are grown commercially but still safe and also a list of the crops most heavily sprayed and to be avoided. The Monterrey Bay Aquarium has a great list of seafoods that is concerned with many issues including both mercury and environmentally safe caught practices, called the Seafood Watch Program.
It does take time and effort to find your way to a healthy lifestyle. I admit our quest for healthy foods and living it is not quite mainstream. There are a lot of unscrupulous people and companies out there taking advantage of our naivety making it that much more difficult. But if you look around you'll find there are a lot of good people fighting the good fight to bring this information to the forefront. Here are some of the websites I feel safe in passing on to you. They are full of good information and advice.
This was the article that started my friend wondering....and an excellent one at that!
Nutritionadata.com is one of my favorite sites to find nutritional values for foods and just researching. http://www.nutritiondata.com/
A Composting Guide for the Home Gardener http://www.composting101.com/
A great article from Wikihow, How to make your own Worm Compost System http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Your-Own-Worm-Compost-System
The George Mateljan Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation with no commercial interests, is a new force for change to help make a healthier you and a healthier world.
For Dr. Weil http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_b_0_8?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=andrew+weil&sprefix=Andrew+
This is a website that will keep you on the cutting edge of sustainablity and how to use it in your everyday life. http://www.sustainablelifemedia.com/
Here's Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch Program page, I think they are an awesome
organization doing very important work in helping us understand the oceans of the world. http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx