Are All Processed Foods Bad For You?

By Chelsea Pineiro

Feb 25
Are All Processed Foods Bad For You?

Popular opinion: Not all processed foods are bad for you!

Seriously! Most foods in the supermarket are definitely processed and have been through many people’s hands before they arrive at your table. That doesn’t mean that you can’t eat them. I’m not talking about sugary drinks, white bread, or fried foods. Sure, you can indulge in those from time to time. But we know to a certain extent, that those foods are unhealthy. That being said, I’m not a fan of calling certain foods “good” or “bad.” We are only human, and we can certainly indulge in all kinds of food without necessarily feeling negative effects. Nothing should be off-limits unless you have an allergy, sensitivity, or consciously make a choice to not eat it.

The Negative Connotation of Processed Foods

bowl of granola and glass of OJ

Consider this: the bread and orange juice are highly processed, while the yogurt, fruit, and nuts are probably very minimally-processed. This is a great step toward reducing your sugar and processed food intake.

The term “processed” has a negative connotation to it. But why? There has to be healthy processed food out there. In fact, there are tons. It’s important to distinguish that there are overly-processed foods in our grocery stores. When looking at chemical bonds, one may actually realize that foods like Becel have more in common with plastic than with actual butter (this turned out to be a myth, but it still makes you think twice about what’s in your food!). I’m sure many companies are more cognizant of this now and are making sure that the food they put on our shelves can be broken down in the human body. We are surrounded by these healthy and not-so-healthy processed foods. So what should you look out for?

What to Look Out For

Processed foods include any foods that have gone through a canning, cooking, freezing, dehydration, or milling process. The main concern we need to focus on is processing that reduces a food’s nutritional wealth or adds things, like sodium and sugar that you may prefer to avoid or limit. Some of these foods include: refined grains, added salt and sugar, and trans-fats. So how can you minimize processed foods?

bowl of konjac noodles with 2 chopsticks

A solution to this is to eat whole foods: those that still contain what nature gave them. This can include foods that have been through a minimal amount of industrial processing. That being said, not all highly processed foods are bad for us. For example, if you want pasta, but you don’t want grains or can’t eat them due to a gluten-intolerance or celiac disease, you may want a form of pasta made of chickpeas, or black beans, or even konjac root. These are all pretty highly processed foods, but our body may be able to digest them more easily.

Go for Minimal Processing

Go for minimal processing vs. “healthy” high processing. Minimal processing could be butter, which includes 1 ingredient: Milk or cream. An example of “healthy” high processing might be Margarine. Here are the ingredients I found for a tub of off-brand margarine: water, vegetable oils in varying proportions (42%) (rapeseed, palm, sunflower), buttermilk (5%)(Milk), Salt (1.4%). Emulsifiers (Sunflower Lecithin, Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids), Preservative (Potassium Sorbate), Acid (Citric Acid), Flavorings, Color (Carotenes), Vitamin D. Yikes!

picture of cubed butter

Some of you may be thinking, “Actually, Chelsea, I heard butter isn’t good for me.” And you may be right! Depending on your health condition and how your body reacts to dairy or how much you’re using, too much butter can lead to serious health conditions! However, if you take a look at the nutrients in a good quality grass-fed butter, you’re getting a good amount of Vitamin K2, Conjugated Linoleic Acid (CLA), Butyrate, and Omega-3. Sure, you may be able to find these in a tub of man-made margarine, but these are not naturally occurring. Use your body’s cues and some sense, because butter is higher in saturated fat and cholesterol, so definitely use it sparingly.

Other Processed I Would Consider Healthy Enough to Eat Daily!

Dark Chocolate

Aim to get dark chocolate that is 85% cacao or higher. Yes, it is bitter, but this is going to give you the health benefits you’re looking for – high in antioxidants known as flavonoids (more than green tea or red wine). Try not to eat more than 1oz a day if you are looking to lose weight. Technically, you could get 70% dark chocolate and still have the same benefits, but the lower the % of cacao, the more sugar.

dark chocolate

Dark chocolate – 85%+

Kelp Noodles

These are cholesterol, fat, and gluten-free, and also rich in nutrients. A 1/2 cup serving includes 186 mg of sodium, 134 mg of calcium, 2.28 mg of iron, and 52.8 mcg of vitamin K. They are a good dietary source of iodine!

Hummus

This is high in plant-based protein (chickpeas), helps to fight inflammation, high in fiber, and helps to control blood sugar levels. What is there not to like?! You can even flavor it however you’d like. This is extremely easy to make at home, and I’d actually suggest you try making this one at home with canned or dried chickpeas. Fun and delicious for the whole family!

dipping pita in hummus

Hummus

Nutritional Yeast

Great for the vegans out there or those who can’t eat cheese! This yeast is grown specifically to be used as a food product. The yeast cells are killed during manufacturing and not alive in the final product. It is used in cooking and has a cheesy, nutty, or savory flavor. It’s a great source of protein, B vitamins, and trace minerals.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Honestly, just drizzle this on everything. This is my favorite healthy fat, containing modest amounts of vitamins E and K and plenty of beneficial fatty acids. Olives are pressed to extract their oil, but modern methods involve crushing the olives, mixing them together, and then separating the oil from the pulp in a centrifuge.

Ghee

This is basically butter with the dairy component removed, known as clarified butter! Removing the milk from ghee does offer additional benefits, namely the absence of lactose and the higher smoke point. You can easily make this on your own using recipes such as this one.

Canned Foods (Beans or Fish)

The convenience alone makes these a winner! Often thought to be less nutritious than fresh or frozen foods, canned foods get a bad rep. But research shows that this is not always true. In fact, canning preserves most of the food’s nutrients –Protein, carbs, and fat are unaffected by the process.

Nut Butter

From almond to cashew to walnut, nut butter (and seed butter!) contains great nutrients and can be made at home with nothing more than nuts! Despite their bad reputation for being high in fat, nut butter contains natural, healthy fats that are good for your heart, cholesterol, and help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.

olive oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Yogurt

Plain, unflavored yogurt is a healthy processed food great for breakfast or dessert. If you don’t like plain yogurt, you can sweeten it with fresh fruit or add chia seeds, nuts, and granola to take the tartness out. Many yogurts are full of calcium, vitamin B-2, vitamin B-12, potassium, magnesium, and probiotics. There are also tons of dairy-free options nowadays.

I’ll never tell anyone to stop eating processed foods. I can’t imagine going out for breakfast without having a side of bacon or not having freshly popped popcorn while watching Netflix. You can still have many of the processed foods you know and love, and not feel guilty about it. The best thing is many of these processed foods are affordable and more convenient. For those in a hurry, canned or frozen options are great! Open up a can of beans and you have a healthy protein source for a vegetarian dinner with some rice and vegetables. If you can’t find seasonal, fresh, affordable vegetables, the freezer aisle is full of all kinds of options from Okra, broccoli, beans, spinach, and carrots. Finish your dinner off with some dark chocolate, and you’re golden!

Let me know what your favorite processed food is. Even if it’s unhealthy, how do you think you could


Resources:

  • https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/not-all-processed-foods-are-unhealthy
  • https://www.eatthis.com/best-processed-foods/

Chelsea Pineiro

Chelsea has been active most of her life, which led her to become a Personal Trainer and Yoga Instructor for the past 7 years. Health and Fitness are not solely dependent on movement, though, and with that understanding, she addresses her client’s other needs, such as diet, mindfulness, and stress management.

When she is not training clients or teaching Yoga, she is finding new activities that keep her mind and body active, such as rock climbing, hiking, listening to podcasts, or playing Board Games with friends. She is constantly working towards: Finding natural solutions to live as long as possible, inclusive Yoga for all body types, and aiming to find mindfulness is everything she does.

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