Are all processed foods bad?

by | Apr 23, 2020 | nutrition

In thinking about one’s health, there are so many perspectives: some good, some not so good, and certainly a wide variation in opinion which appears to change from week to week depending upon what’s popular now according to the media. I’ve been thinking a lot about food choices, particularly during this season of COVID-19, and my own shopping and food preparation habits and thought I’d share some of my opinions.

Many nutritional intervention programs begin with removing processed foods from our kitchens which have little to no nutritional value. Highly refined foods are typically very high in sugar, salt and fat: the trilogy which contributes to many negative health consequences beginning with zapping energy levels, contributing to rising obesity, risk of cardiovascular disease and kidney problems. Throwing out refined food is the beginning of eliminating temptations which taunt us in order to find our way onto a healthy path.

Are all processed foods bad, though?

The term “processed” is defined by the USDA as making any changes to a food beyond cleaning it for transport and preparing it for grocery display. For example, a container of strawberries is not processed; however, strawberries prepared with a thick syrup for shortcake is processed. Refined foods are those which have been stripped of nutritional value and altered to create a new product: for example: white flour, rice and cereal. Quite often, food manufacturers will add many unnecessary and un-pronounceable ingredients to extend their product shelf-life which contributes to the negative connotations of processed.

Here’s a short list of commonly processed foods and suggestions of better choices:

  • all purpose bleached white flour: replace with unbleached white flour
  • instant white rice: replace with brown rice or another long-cooking grain and consider pre-cooking these grains on the weekend to ease the food prep during the week
  • Frozen mandarin chicken stir-fry: replace with fresh, whole vegetables and stir-fry with chicken to make a home-made version; make your own mandarin sauce or choose a bottled sauce made with ingredients you can pronounce
  • Granola: there are many versions on the market which require label reading to decipher. Look for real ingredients such as flax, oats, millet, barley, cane sugar


Many foods are processed for food safety reasons as well as for ease of use:

  • triple washed salad mix, ready to eat
  • baby carrots (yes those little guys are cut from regular sized carrots to look cute)
  • precut fresh produce to ease meal prep
  • frozen fruits and vegetables: locks in the nutritional benefits of the fresh produce
  • dried cooking spices & iodized salt: all processed, but still recognizable
  • pasteurized milk

CONs of processed “healthy” foods:

  • pre-cut produce speeds deterioration of water soluble nutrients and costs more
  • heating (canning) destroys some nutrients
  • highly modified foods fuel weight gain and contribute to inflammatory chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, high cholesterol and cardiovascular disease

For more information on how you can move from a cooking lifestyle dependent upon boxes and packaged mixes to one of whole, real foods, please contact me to set up a personalized nutrition consultation.


Anneser, A. Refined to Real Food. Exeter, NH: J.N. Townsend Publishing; 2005

Are all processed foods bad?

by | Apr 23, 2020 | nutrition