Can Processed Foods Be Healthy? by Jessica Dean, RD


Most people associate the term processed foods with foods high in calories, salt, saturated and trans fats, sugar, refined carbohydrates, additives, and preservatives. Although this can be true, with a little detective work you can easily incorporate some processed foods into a healthy diet.  Here’s how:

  1. Pay attention to the degree the food has been processed. The processing degree can range from minimally processed to highly processed.
  • Minimally processed foods — such as bagged spinach, cut vegetables and roasted nuts — often are simply pre-prepped for convenience.
  • Foods processed at their peak to lock in nutritional quality and freshness include canned tomatoes, frozen fruit and vegetables, and canned tuna.
  • Foods with ingredients added for flavor and texture (sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives) include jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt and cake mixes.
  • Ready-to-eat foods — such as crackers, granola and deli meat — are more heavily processed.
  • The most heavily processed foods often are pre-made meals including frozen pizza and microwaveable dinners
  1. Read Food Labels-Use the following chart as a guide to help identify the healthier options.
When it says… Look for…
Calories 600 or less
Fiber 5 grams or more
Sodium 500 milligrams or less
Trans fat 0 grams
Saturated fat 5 grams or less
Sugar 0 grams
  1. Purchase foods that will cut down on meal prep.  Foods such as frozen berries for thick smoothies, shredded carrots in salads, jarred pesto on grilled veggies or whole grain pasta, frozen spinach for soups and packaged tuna for quick protein sandwich will make meal prep faster and easier.
  2.  Make a list of  grab-and-go foods to keep stocked in the refrigerator or freezer for emergencies.



Can-processed-foods-be-healthy-infographic by AHA

10-healthy-convenience-foods by Moms Kitchen Handbook

healthy-convenient-meals-on-the-go by Harvard Health

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