Are Processed Foods Harmful? Debunking Myths and Misconceptions


“I actually strive to not eat processed meals.” You hear it come out of your mouth and simply because it does, you notice you’ve gotten solely the slightest thought of what that truly means. At least, that is the way it went for me as soon as upon a time. Even if you have not voiced the sentiment out loud, certainly you’ve got heard the time period and in an effort to get more healthy, tried to chop down on these pesky, probably life-threatening (?) processed meals. But what precisely does this unfastened designation imply and are processed meals actually as dangerous as they have been billed to be? Should you keep away from processed meals altogether, and in that case, how? Answering the primary of these questions may assist to determine the remaining.

What are processed meals?

The time period processed meals actually applies to any meals that has been altered in any approach previous to sale or consumption. The International Food Information Council qualifies (PDF) the processing of meals as “any deliberate change in a meals that happens earlier than it is out there for us to eat — so simple as freezing or drying meals to protect vitamins and freshness or as complicated as formulating a frozen meal with the precise steadiness of vitamins and elements.”  

There are a thousand and one methods to switch meals, from the drastic to essentially the most fundamental together with historic strategies — like drying and fermenting — to extra fashionable, chemical and organic modifications with new ones being developed on a regular basis. Foods are additionally modified for a lot of completely different causes, from bettering style and visible look to extending shelf life but in addition some sudden causes you may not affiliate with processing — ones which might really be fairly good for you.

Note: For the needs of this text, we’ll not talk about genetically modified meals or “GMOs,” which have been altered earlier than progress at a molecular stage and pose a separate collection of questions and considerations.



The few utterly unprocessed meals — those you’ve got been telling your self to eat as a lot of as humanly doable — are a reasonably small checklist of fruit and veggies, meats, nuts, seeds, and some different meals which might be consumed primarily as they had been once they left the earth, tree, vine, pod, shell, sea or farm. So a greater query to ask your self as you stroll the aisles of the grocery store is just not “is it processed?” however fairly “how processed is it?” and in addition “how is it processed?” Speaking very typically, the much less processed the higher, however there are some vital caveats.

Read extra: 7 Ways to Eat a Healthy Diet Without Spending a Lot

How a meals is processed issues greater than whether it is or not

Woman takes fresh fruits and vegetables out from bag

Raw fruit and veggies, particularly natural variations, are sometimes the least processed meals within the grocery retailer.

Maria Korneeva/Moment/Getty Images

Some minimally processed meals like bagged greens, recent fruits, plain rice and grains, salad greens, seeds, nuts and roasted espresso beans are technically processed, however in innocuous methods comparable to merely cooking, grinding or making ready them for in-store and at-home comfort. These meals are processed to your profit: cleaned, cooked or reduce for security and ease.

Slightly extra closely processed meals, like boxed crackers or frozen fruits, greens and legumes, typically have processing moreover cooking comparable to an added preservative comparable to salt or sugar, however the impact is usually minimal as most fundamental packaging and freezing processes are efficient and comparatively noninvasive. 

Canned meals are usually not as easy to navigate, as they typically embody extra elements and extra complicated strategies of processing or preserving. Peaches, for instance, are sometimes canned in a corn syrup-based juice, whereas many different canned greens and soups are filled with nitrates and preservatives. There can be the presence of BPA, an industrial chemical discovered within the steel of some meals cans which have been linked to critical well being issues. But on the finish of the day, almost any canned, preserved and frozen meals will expertise some lack of vitamins, so recent is at all times higher if it is doable.

Medium processed meals 

bead alone loaves of bread on shelf

Quality bread is not usually processed in a approach that can hurt you, however be careful for bread that is been bleached to take away colour or full of sweeteners for style. 

Bread Alone

More processed meals embody these modified for style and look with sweeteners, flavoring brokers preservatives. These embody many bottled sure shelf-stable sauces, salad dressings, soups, batters and gravy mixes. This extra complicated class is one which requires you to learn and analysis particular elements so you understand what you are placing into your physique. A normal rule of thumb is the less elements, the higher. And bear in mind, they’re listed in descending order from essentially the most prevalent ingredient (by sheer quantity) to the least. The hard-to-pronounce elements are sometimes chemical fillers, sweeteners, colorants, nitrates, antibiotics and different preservatives. Most nutritionists would urge you to keep away from it the place doable.

Bread and baked items are one class of meals that runs the gamut from extraordinarily extremely processed to not a lot in any respect and consumption needs to be rigorously thought of. Bleached white bread and rolls, like Wonder model, are extremely processed and preserved, obliterating most dietary worth. More pure manufacturers, comparable to Arnold and Bread Alone, nonetheless could include some preservatives, however not almost as many as their cheaper, long-lasting associates within the bakery aisle. Again, learn the elements; the less whole and the extra you acknowledge, the higher.

Ultraprocessed meals: Avoid in any respect price

A tv dinner

While some fashionable frozen meals and meal supply companies are made recent and frozen with out preservatives, many are nonetheless ultraprocessed and needs to be axed out of your weight-reduction plan.

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The worst (and most) processed meals typically come through a Trojan horse of comfort and embody most ready-to-eat, frozen or prepackaged meals, mixes, soups and sweets. The extra sophisticated the meals, the extra tampering possible needed to be completed for it to stay edible and engaging. This means most frozen pizzas and microwavable TV dinners, in addition to complicated packaged desserts with filling and frosting, like Twinkies and Pop-Tarts. Ultraprocessed meals include extraordinarily low ranges of diet. A 2022 research on Brazilian adults confirmed that these meals contribute to untimely demise at an astounding charge.

Most store-bought bacon, scorching canines and prepackaged deli meats are additionally extremely processed and filled with nitrates to cease the expansion of micro organism, a lot in order that they’re labeled as carcinogens by some requirements. This classification doesn’t apply throughout the board and a few newer meals manufacturers comparable to natural Amy’s Kitchen have discovered methods to make and distribute ready and frozen meals with out the heavy use of chemical preservatives. The proof is usually within the packaging, so learn, learn after which learn some extra.

Another factor to look out for are “low-fat” “sugar-free” and different “weight-reduction plan” meals which are sometimes processed at a better charge than others, and lots of occasions in an unhealthy approach. Consider that if a meals is billed as “low-fat,” meaning fats (style) was faraway from the unique product and it has possible been both chemically altered or comprises a bevy of taste components to make up for the lack of taste. More typically than not, this implies sugar, which is arguably worse for you than the unique fats that was eliminated. On the flip aspect, many low-sugar or low-carb meals are fortified with various chemical sweeteners, which vary from the extremely chemical (aspartame and saccharine) to the extra naturally derived (stevia and monk fruit). 

Some meals are processed for good

tropican essentials juice with calcium

Orange juice is usually fortified with further fiber, calcium and different vitamins. 


While the time period “processed meals” actually carries a unfavourable connotation, many meals are processed to enhance or fortify their well being advantages and total dietary worth. Certain bread merchandise and granolas are fortified with fiber or riboflavin, for example. Milk, juices, drinks and yogurts typically get a lift of calcium or nutritional vitamins which have various levels of optimistic impression on well being.

Pasteurization is one other widespread type of processing, significantly for juice, milk and milk byproducts comparable to cheese and yogurt. It makes use of warmth to get rid of doubtlessly dangerous pathogens and lengthen shelf life. Pasteurization doesn’t depend on heavy components like different preservation strategies and serves as one other instance of meals processing that should not concern the common individual.

In normal, the time period “processed meals” shouldn’t be one thing to scare or cease you from shopping for or consuming one thing, however in the event you suspect or uncover one thing has been closely processed, for any purpose, it might be smart to think about each the means for and the method by which it was altered earlier than shopping for. When it involves meals, as with virtually anything, information is energy. 

What the well being meals?


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