< previous post             return to index            next post >

Processed Foods - What does that mean?

When I tell people to avoid processed foods what exactly do I mean? How does that translate into what to eat and not eat?

The term, processed foods, which doesn’t have an official agreed upon definition, can mean anything from simply cooking or cutting, to pasteurizing, fermenting, fortifying, refining, extruding, hydrolyzing and more. Not all processing is bad - some forms of food processing add to the nutritional quality or improve the safety of the food. It is the ultra or highly processed foods where the processing has a negative effect on your health that I want people to avoid. Food processing that adds lots of emulsifiers, thickeners, stabilizers and artificial sweeteners and that reduces health promoting nutrients such as fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals and the good fatty acids are what I’m referring to when I say avoid processed foods.

Highly processed foods are usually high in added sugars, refined starches, and sodium.  Processed meats such as bacon, ham, sausage and deli meats contain nitrites, which may increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Phosphorous additives are common in processed foods. See my previous blog on phosphorous.

Examples of ultra-processed foods include soft drinks, packaged snack foods, reconstituted meat products and pre-prepared frozen dishes. These are foods that bear little resemblance to the original food or foods they are made from. The regular use of highly processed foods results in diets that are extremely high in calories, free sugars, salt, unhealthy fats and low in fiber which increases the risk of obesity and chronic diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Focus on eating foods in their natural form. Choose plain fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables without additives. Eat freshly made minimally processed whole grain breads, nuts, cheeses (not processed like American), yogurts, and meats, chicken and fish with no additives. Avoid most snack foods, even the so-called “healthy” ones unless they consist of natural ingredients only with no additives. Avoiding highly processed foods is one of the best things you can do for your diet.


posted on 1/3/2021