Processed Foods: Good or Bad

We hear it everywhere, “Avoid processed foods”, as if this will be an automatic guarantee to health but what does this phrase really entail? There are different levels and stages of processed foods. Technically any food that you do not pick yourself in your own garden is considered processed either through a manufacturing company or through the grocery store. Let’s clear the confusion and look at the different types of “processed” foods regarding which type we want to avoid and which type we need for nutrients.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics the term “processed” means any food that has been cooked, canned, frozen, packaged or changed in nutritional composition by added or taking away nutrients.

When we have hidden added salt, sugar and fat in processed foods and limited nutrients, it causes us problems contributing to health problems. Sometimes we get misleading understandings of healthy when we spot foods that have a “health halo” image on the front of the label but can be worse than the cookies next to them on the shelf. Examples of these include: Olive oil based chips or items labeled as “Organic” or “Natural”, giving the illusion of a perfect heavily processed food that can give you the same benefit as a naturally grown apple.

Nutrition Facts are important to look at and examine. We must learn to linger longer in the grocery store and read what is on the back of the label instead of the front. It’s all marketing to grab your attention in most cases, so do not be the one to fall for it.

Watching your salt intake? Purchase those products that are labeled “low sodium” or “reduced sodium”. So why are high amount of sugar, salt and fat added to products? It is added to preserve or help the product last longer on the shelf.

The following are your different types of processed foods:

Minimally Processed foods:

Pre-Prepped for Convenience. These include chopped, cut or sliced vegetables, fruit or nuts/seeds that are easier to grab and go. Absolutely fine to purchase and consume.

Peak Processed foods:

These foods include canned vegetables such as tomatoes, green beans and/or frozen fruit and vegetables. And even canned fish such as sardines and tuna. Great sources of nutrients however if canned, try to purchase low or reduced sodium brands. Watch for the frozen produce with additional sauces, gravies and sugar added to them.

Ingredient added Processed foods:

Typically added to these processed foods include sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and/or preservatives. Some examples include: Pasta sauces, salad dressings, yogurt and cake mixes.

Ready-to-eat foods and Pre-made meals Processed foods:

Crackers, granola and deli meat fit in this category and are highly processed. Pre-made meals include frozen pizza or convenient microwavable meals. Limit or avoid if possible.


Stay Nourished. Be well.

---Wilkins & Westbrooks

Registered Dietitians

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