You’ve likely heard all about how unhealthy processed foods are. But what makes them so bad for you, and are all processed foods the same? Here’s what you need to know before your next trip to the store.
What Is Processed Food?
Processed food is anything that is no longer in its natural state. Processing often involves everything from drying, canning, and freezing to baking, pasteurizing, and adding ingredients like sugar or salt to food. Not surprisingly, lots of foods are processed, but not all to the same extent. Some are much worse for you than others.
Generally, foods that are simply changed from one form to another – without changing the ingredients – are still healthy. For example, if an item has been chopped up, canned in its own juice, or frozen, it’s technically processed, but it’s still good for you.
Even if an ingredient or two – such as Vitamin C – has been added to keep the item fresh, it’s considered minimally processed and healthy. But if a few ingredients – especially salt, sugar, or artificial colors – have been added, the food is heavily processed and therefore unhealthy.
Which Processed Foods Are the Worst Offenders?
Going by the above definition of processed food, the least healthy options are the ones that have several unnatural ingredients that have been added. Some examples of heavily processed foods are white bread, soda, ice cream, chips, cookies, hot dogs, and frozen pizza.
Such items usually have added sugar, salt, fat, and sodium to add more flavor and increase the shelf life. The result is food that’s tasty and will keep in your kitchen, but won’t do any favors for your waistline or overall health.
Which Processed Foods Are Okay to Eat?
If you’re having trouble finding store-bought items that aren’t processed to some degree, don’t worry. Some options are okay for you. For example, anything that has simply been cut up and bagged – such as frozen vegetables – is fine. Other examples include canned fruits, vegetables, beans, or tuna.
Some moderately processed foods are also okay to eat. For instance, whole grain bread, cereal, and pasta are considered processed because a few ingredients have been added to them for flavor and freshness. Just try to buy the versions that have the smallest amount of ingredients.
Of course, processed foods tend to be convenient and flavorful, which is why they’re so popular. You don’t have to avoid every processed food to have a healthy diet. If you stick to the most natural options you can find – with the least amount of added ingredients – you’ll be on your way to a healthier lifestyle.