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Processed Foods Can Be Good -- Or Bad


Updated June 26, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Woman buyng processed food

Buying processed foods can be confusing -- some are good and some are bad.

Jack Hollingsworth/Getty Images Grilling hot dogs

Hot dogs are usually high in fat and sodium.

Christopher Bruno Healthy Breakfast is Good for Your Heart

Choose breakfast cereals that are made from whole grains.

Dimiter Tzankov

Processed foods have been altered from their natural state, either for safety reasons or convenience. Processing methods include canning, freezing, refrigeration, dehydration and aseptic processing.

Good Processed Foods

We tend to think of them as bad, like most high-fat, high-calorie snack foods or even those prepackaged meals you fix in a skillet, but it turns out that some processed foods are not bad for your health at all.

Low- and non-fat milk is good for you, and it's considered a processed food because it's pasteurized to kill bacteria and homogenized to keep fats from separating.

Breakfast cereals are processed foods that can be good for you when they're made with 100-percent whole grain and fortified with additional nutrients. Unfortunately, many breakfast cereals are made with too much sugar, and they're low in fiber. Read the nutrition label on the package, it will help you decide if the breakfast cereal is good or not.

Frozen foods are processed foods. The best frozen foods are vegetables and fruits that don't contain any sauce, sugar or syrup. Freezing preserves most vitamins and minerals, and makes the food convenient to store, cook and eat all year round.

Fruit and vegetable juices are processed foods, and most are good for you -- look out for the brands with added sugars. Some orange juice is fortified with calcium, which makes a beneficial beverage even better..

Oatmeal, frozen fish and seafood (not fish stick or breaded varieties), canned salmon and tuna, dried fruits, roasted nuts and seeds, and 100-percent whole grain bread are also examples of processed foods that are good for you.

Bad Processed Foods

Processed foods made with trans fats, saturated fats, and large amounts of sodium and sugar aren't good for you. They're low in vitamins and minerals and eating too much of them is bad for your waistline -- and your health.

Avoid these processed foods should be avoided, or at least eat them sparingly:

  • Canned foods with large amounts of sodium or fat.
  • Pasta meals made with refined white flour instead of whole grains.
  • Packaged high-calorie snack foods such as chips and candies.
  • Frozen fish sticks and frozen dinners that are high in sodium.
  • Packaged cakes and cookies.
  • Boxed meal mixes that are high in fat and sodium.
  • Sugary breakfast cereals.
  • Processed meats.
Related Video
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