Processed foods have gotten a bad rap. We have been told to avoid processed foods because it causes heart disease, weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and many other chronic illnesses. But did you know processed foods aren’t just a bag of potato chips, a cheeseburger meal at your local fast-food restaurant, or a box of powdered doughnuts? You may be surprised to learn chopped fruit, 100% whole wheat bread, and canned tuna are also processed foods.
What are processed foods?
Processed foods include foods that have been cooked, canned, frozen, packaged, or changed nutritionally by adding beneficial nutrients, preserving or preparing in different ways. Cooking, baking, and canning are different ways foods are processed.
Processed foods range from minimally to heavily processed foods.
Examples of minimally processed foods include:
- bagged collard greens
- roasted nuts
- sliced pineapple
Minimally processed food can help you eat more foods higher in vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Sometimes milk and juices are fortified with calcium and vitamin D, and breakfast cereals may have added fiber or iron. Canned fruit (packed in water or its own juice) or plain frozen fruit are good options when fresh fruit is not available. Some minimally processed food such as pre-cut vegetables and pre-washed, bagged kale, collard greens, or spinach are quality convenience foods for busy people.
Examples of heavily processed foods include:
- deli meat
- frozen pizza
Other heavily processed foods such as hot dogs, candy, soda, high sugar cereals, and granola are conveniently found in grocery stores, gas stations, retail stores–everywhere you shop. It’s difficult to avoid these foods when you’re looking for something quick and convenient. These foods have extra fat, sugar, salt, and calories increasing your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and hypertension.
Tips to reduce your intake of heavily processed foods
- Cook more at home.
- Look for hidden sugar and sodium. Be mindful of the “added sugars” listed on the Nutrition Facts Label or in the ingredients.
- Choose canned foods with “no added salt” or “low sodium” on the container.
- Request healthier options at restaurants– soups, fruit, salads as sides and grilled, roasted, baked, or steamed food items.
Looking for more nutrition tips? Sign up for our email newsletter and get a free grocery list.