By Amber Charles, MSPH, RDN
January 4, 2020
In the spirit of the new year, the diet industry's messages are loud and processed foods continue to be demonized. We cannot always reach for fresh fruits and vegetables, but that does not mean we're not eating in a "healthy" manner.
What foods are considered processed?
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines a processed food as any raw agricultural commodity that has undergone packaging or other procedures that alter the food from its natural state, including the addition of other ingredients.
Processed foods range from minimally processed (pre-cut, bagged vegetables) to highly processed (frozen meals/pizza) and are also known as convenience foods.
Why the bad rap?
Studies have reported relationships between highly-processed food intake and higher fasting blood sugar, metabolic syndrome, increases in total and LDL cholesterol, and risk of hypertension.
However, some highly processed foods confer health benefits (think whole grain bread) while other minimally processed foods give you a bang for your buck and are nutrient-dense!
While all foods fit, here are 5 categories of processed foods you may not have known are processed and you probably shouldn't avoid.
Pre-cut and Bagged
Convenience is the name of the game when a "callaloo pack" or pre-cut chicken are sitting on the shelves! These processed foods save time (and energy) during meal prep and shopping. I never thought I'd be a bagged veg type of girl...and I may not go back!
Did you know that raisins, freeze-dried mango and other dried fruits count as a serving of fruit?! These alternatives to fresh fruit surely come in handy and are packed with nutrients and fiber. Have some on the way to work or in quarantine (#travellife).
If you need a quick meal these come in handy (canned veg cooks faster). Be mindful of the salt content (learn how to read labels here) and choose fruits stored in lite syrup or natural juices when possible...or have the heavy syrup guilt free. You choose.
Who said frozen is of a lower quality? Frozen fruits and vegetables have the advantage of retaining more nutrients because they are picked at peak ripeness and frozen immediately. Freezing foods also reduces spoilage and saves money...not to mention a go-to for homemade smoothies.
Foods may be fortified or enriched with essential nutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, B-vitamins (folate) and iodine. These processed foods often provide nutrients otherwise under consumed in the daily diet and may eliminate the need for supplements.
This is not an exhaustive list of processed foods and their health impacts, but taking a moment to highlight the positives instead of always focusing on the negatives sounds like a great way to kick off the new year!
What are some of your go-to processed/convenience foods? Leave a comment below.