Your Guide to Processed Foods
By Sara Butler
Processed food is known the world over as a detriment to health and wellness. It contributes to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Processed food is more than just potato chips, fast food and boxed macaroni and cheeses, though. Foods that people assume are good for you are also considered processed foods, such as whole wheat bread, homemade soup or even a chopped apple.
Some processed foods definitely need to be eaten with caution, but there are some processed foods that can be a part of a healthy and balanced diet. Here’s how you can tell the difference between processed foods to be avoided and those that may actually be nutritious for you!
Processed Food Defined
What does it mean for a food to be processed, anyway? Well, there’s not just processed and unprocessed food – it turns out there are many subtle levels of processing. For example:
- Minimally processed – Foods such as cut vegetables, bagged spinach, and roasted nuts are processed because they’re prepacked.
- Processed at peak – Foods such as frozen vegetables, frozen foods, canned beans, canned tuna and canned tomatoes are all processed to lock in nutrition when they’re at their peak.
- Processed for texture and taste – Some foods are processed with flavoring and textures added such as salad dressing, yogurt, cake mix and jarred pasta sauce.
- Processed to be ready to eat – Foods such as deli meat, crackers and granola are more heavily processed and preserved to make them able to be stored on the shelf until you’re ready to eat them.
- Processed meals – The most heavily processed foods are those that are entire meals that are then frozen or canned, such as frozen pizza or microwave dinners.
There are some processed foods that can be a good addition to the diet. Milk often has Vitamin D and calcium added in order to be more nutritious – but it has to get processed in some way in order to add those things. If you do add processed foods to your diet, you need to stick to the ones that are minimally processed such as pre-cut vegetables, fruit canned in water or its own juice, or breakfast cereals with added fiber.
Just make sure you read the nutrition information on the processed food you’re purchasing. Review the nutrition facts to determine if it’s really a good thing to add to your diet or not. Look for hidden sugar, hidden fat and hidden sodium in the ingredients!