Processed foods have been altered from their natural state, either for safety reasons or for 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.
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 if it's made with 100-percent whole grain and fortified with additional nutrients. Unfortunately, many breakfast cereals 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.
Freezing vegetables preserves most vitamins and minerals and makes them convenient to store, cook and eat all year around.
Fruit and vegetable juices are also nutritious processed foods -- usually.
Some orange juice is fortified with calcium to make it even more nutritious. Oatmeal, unbreaded frozen fish fillets, canned salmon, frozen berries 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.
These processed foods should be avoided, or at least eaten 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.
Why processed meats? Some studies suggest that eating processed meats may increase your risk of colorectal, kidney and stomach cancer. And some people worry about hotdogs and brain tumors. Processed meats include hot dogs, bologna, sausage, ham and other packaged lunch meats. These meats are frequently high in calories, saturated fats and sodium.
Choosing Processed Foods
Be sure to look for products that are made with more whole grains, less sodium and have fewer calories. They should also be low in saturated fat and free of trans-fats (be sure to read the label, sometimes foods that claim to be trans-fat free still contain partially hydrogenated oils).
Make sure you pay attention to serving size and balance out the processed foods with extra servings of fresh foods. If you choose a convenient meal in a skillet, add a garden salad, fresh vegetables, and some whole grain bread to make the meal healthier.
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Faramawi MF, Johnson E, Fry MW, Sall M, Yi Z. "Consumption of different types of meat and the risk of renal cancer: meta-analysis of case-control studies." Cancer Causes Control. 2007 Mar;18(2):125-33. Epub 2007 Jan 22.
Larsson SC, Orsini N, Wolk A. "Processed meat consumption and stomach cancer risk: a meta-analysis." J Natl Cancer Inst. 2006 Aug 2;98(15):1078-87.