Can Processed Foods be Part of a Healthy Diet?

Most foods are processed – changed, prepared or packaged – in some way before we eat them. They fall somewhere on a spectrum from minimally processed (like salad mix, bagged dry beans, roasted unsalted nuts or frozen fruits or vegetables) to what some nutrition experts refer to as highly or ultra-processed (like sugary beverages, chips or smoked sausage).

Just because a food is processed, it doesn’t mean it’s automatically bad for your health. Some processed foods have ingredients added, such as sweeteners, oils, colors and preservatives. Some are fortified to add nutrients such as fiber, calcium or vitamin D. Some are simply prepped for convenience (washed or chopped) or packaged to last longer. Processes such as pasteurizing milk, canning fruits and vegetables, and vacuum packing meats help prevent spoilage and increase food safety. Even foods labeled “natural” or “organic” can be processed.


So what can you do if want to eat healthier?

Choose healthier processed foods.

  • Read food labels. This is the best way to know exactly what’s in a processed food. Choose products without a lot of sodium, added sugars, and saturated fats.
  • Enjoy frozen and canned produce. Frozen and canned beans, fruits and vegetables are convenient and affordable options that can be just as nutritious as fresh produce.
  • Snack Smarter – Reach for fruit or cut up veggies, unsalted trail mixes or homemade popcorn.
  • Make more meals at home – This will help you save money while also cutting down on processed foods by preparing meals from scratch.