By definition, “processed food” is any food that has been altered in some way from its original state. This includes cooked, canned, frozen, washed, milled, headed, packaged or changed by fortifying, preserving or preparing it in a different way. There are big differences between certain processed foods. This includes foods such as those that are minimally processed like bagged spinach or chopped carrots versus heavily processed (or ultra-processed) foods such as frozen pizza or microwavable dinners. Several foods that are minimally processed are important components of our everyday healthy diets so be careful when choosing or avoiding all processed foods. Being aware by reading the nutrition facts label of foods can certainly let you know whether the food has tons of sodium or sugar added or other preservatives that are typically found in ultra-processed foods.

Processed Foods That Are Okay to Eat

  • Fresh chopped vegetables and fruit such as pre-washed lettuce, carrots, peppers, pineapple, watermelon
  • Frozen fruit and vegetables with no added sugar
  • Hummus, cottage cheese, sauerkraut, flavored waters (no-calorie or sweeteners), dried fruit with no added sugar
  • Milk and yogurt
  • Roasted nuts, seeds or nut butters and canned beans
  • Canned tuna
  • Coffee and tea
  • Whole-grain/whole-wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, cereal
  • Canned pasta sauce and canned tomatoes
  • Canned vegetables like green beans and corn with low sodium and no added sugar

Benefits of Some Processed Foods

  • Added nutrients: They provide added nutrients to foods such as milk and 100% fruit juices that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
  • Shelf stability: Whether it be supply chain issues, an emergency or just lack of time preventing you from getting fresh food from the grocery store, non-perishable foods liked canned vegetables and beans and whole-grain pasta can save you time while providing plenty of nutrition.
  • Time saving: Some foods such as pre-washed, bagged salads and frozen and canned vegetables can also save you time with meal prep.

As you can see, not all processed foods are inherently bad and there is certainly room for some nutritious processed foods in your everyday healthy food choices.