Are All Processed Foods Bad?

Are All Processed Foods Bad? The key is to educate ourselves on what foods fit into a healthy diet and which ones we should avoid. It’s easier than you think.

Are All Processed Foods Bad?
Are All Processed Foods Bad?

What is processed food?  Are all processed foods bad?  Can processed foods ever be healthy?  Where do we draw the line?  These are questions we ask ourselves every day.

Many people see processed foods as a bad thing but foods are neither good nor bad, black or white.  Like everything else in life, there are shades of gray.  And here’s the truth:  Everything we eat is processed.

The key is to educate ourselves on what processed foods we can introduce into a healthy diet and which ones we should stay away from.  It’s easier than you think.

First, let’s take a look at the different categories of processed foods.

Categories of Processed Foods

Categories of Processed Foods
Categories of Processed Foods

What we typically think of as unprocessed foods are actually “processed” in the regard that they are slightly altered from their natural state for the sake of consumer convenience and/or the purpose of preservation.  These include foods that are picked from the vine, cleaned, pasteurized, refrigerated, frozen and/or vacuum-sealed. Examples of this would be fresh or frozen whole produce, milk, fresh herbs and eggs.

Minimally processed foods have been manipulated in some way.  They have had inedible/unwanted parts removed, been pressed, dried, ground, cooked, milled and/or packaged. This category includes meat cut by a butcher, seafood, bagged salads, roasted nuts, grains, legumes, oils and whole-grain flours.

Foods can be further processed when they are modified from their original state to become something else.  This includes butter, sour cream, hummus, salt, sugar, pickled and fermented foods.

Now we move onto the next level of processed foods.  These are foods processed in a factory and come to us canned, jarred or otherwise packaged.  This is where we must begin to be vigilant.  

Highly Processed Food

Highly Processed Food
Highly Processed Food

Many highly processed foods appear to be healthy on the surface.  Let’s take these granola bars, for example.  The label shouts that it’s made with 100% WHOLE GRAINS!  No high fructose corn syrup! No artificial flavors!  No added color! 100 calories or less per serving!

But there’s a rude awakening when we look at the nutrition label.

Whole grains?  They may be whole but there certainly aren’t many of ‘em in there…1 gram (or less, depending on the flavor) of fiber per serving

No high fructose corn syrup?  That’s true, but each bar is chock-a-block full of other sugars:  Cane sugar, brown sugar, invert sugar, corn syrup and corn syrup solids.  At 7 grams per serving, that’s more than 25% of the recommended daily allowance for children.  As for the high fructose corn syrup argument?  Studies show that, although it’s metabolized differently from other sweeteners, all added sugars have the same metabolic effects on the body and can lead to the same health consequences.

But, it’s low in calories, right?  Unfortunately, the nutrition label shows that there is no notable nutrition being added to your diet when you eat this bar.  It’s empty calories.  It’s adding nothing to your body except calories and sugar.  (Yes, just like a candy bar). In my opinion, this is the most overlooked aspect of these highly processed foods.

When you swap out the granola bars for this homemade fruit nut granola, you’ll be gaining 3.5 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals per serving.  And while there is honey added to the mix, it’s partially offset by the fiber and protein content and the added nutrition found in this natural sweetener.

Can You Judge A Book By Its Cover?

Can You Judge A Book By Its Cover?
Can You Judge A Book By Its Cover?

So are there any highly processed foods that we can eat?  How can we know which ones to choose?  I’m here to tell you this:  You, without a doubt, CAN judge a book by its cover.

Any food that’s considered processed must have a nutrition label, which lists ingredients as well as calories, fat, added sugars, fiber and nutritional values. It takes less than a minute to decide if any particular item should be added to your shopping cart.

Take a look at the ingredients.  Everything you see there should be something that you can find in your own kitchen. If there are any ingredients you can’t pronounce, don’t know what it is or wouldn’t be able to buy it on the grocery store shelf, put that package right back and move on.

You should also keep in mind that less is more.  Look for items with only a few simple ingredients.  Just like you would make it at home.

Now look at the nutrition section and ask yourself these questions.  How many servings are in this container?  How many servings would you eat in one sitting?  How much sodium, fat and sugar would you be ingesting in that one sitting?  Is there any protein, fiber, vitamins or minerals that would nourish your body?

For more information on understanding this information, check out this article from the FDA.

How To Make Good Choices

How To Make Good Choices
How To Make Good Choices

Shelf-stable grocery items do have a valid place in every kitchen.  Things like canned tuna, canned or dried fruits/vegetables and legumes remain edible for a long time, much longer than fresh.  They also retain the same level of nutrition for their entire shelf life.

Dry pasta, whole grain flours, granulated sugar and rolled oats are convenient to use and have a long shelf life.  Nuts, nut butter and dried meats need no preparation and can be eaten directly from the container.

Having said that, we cannot assume that all these products are created equal.  In general, most “flavored” items such as honey roasted nuts and tuna packets have added sugar and/or sodium.  So do many nut butters.

Do you know that a single serving-size container of many flavored yogurts can contain (or even exceed) your RDA of sugar?  Just as delicious (and much healthier) is unflavored yogurt with a few drops of honey, vanilla and/or fresh fruit.

I hate to be a nag but I’m going to say it again and ask you to take a few seconds to read those nutrition facts.  I guarantee you’ll be surprised at what you see from one brand to the next! 

It’s All About The Balance

It’s All About The Balance
It’s All About The Balance

You may wonder why I’m telling you this.  I’m the one who’s always preaching about cooking fresh, whole foods, thinking ahead, saving leftovers, yadda, yadda, yadda.


Because cooking from scratch is not always in the cards.  We get busy, we get tired, and our plans change. Sometimes we’re just too lazy to cook.  Sometimes we want a shortcut and that’s ok.

It’s all about the balance in life so go ahead and make things easier by picking up a few cans or boxes.  Just don’t forget to read those labels!

All my best,


Do Diet Foods Make You Fat?

Despite all the low-fat and sugar foods that line the supermarket shelves, we are unhealthier than ever before. What going on here? Do diet foods make you fat?

The supermarkets are full of foods that claim to be wholesome and nutritious in addition to helping us maintain a thriving lifestyle and healthy weight.

But what if the very things we thought would help us to be healthier are actually making us fatter and more debilitated? Do diet foods make you fat?

Too Much Of A Good Food

Low fat is usually touted to be a healthy way to lose weight, get healthy and stay healthy.  Unfortunately, many too many of us associate the words “Low Fat” with “Low Calorie”, which makes people underestimate the number of calories they consume when eating low-fat food.

Studies show the Average Joe feels less guilty when eating these foods, which allows us to justify eating bigger portions.

As we’ve talked about in the past, fat is what makes food taste good.  When fat is unnaturally removed from a food, sugar is added to make it taste better so those who are seeking out low-fat foods are often introducing extra sugar to their diet. And it’s a fact that healthy fat is better for you than any kind of sugar.

Studies also suggest that if you consume something sweet your appetite increases, whether the food/drink is artificially sweetened or not.

So–low fat?  Fuggedaboutit!

I Feel So Empty

Healthy fat and protein have advantages over refined carbohydrates in making you feel satiated and full for longer so why do so many people go for empty calories diet foods such as granola bars and rice cakes?

Why? Because we know it’s healthy.

Or maybe we’re being misled.

Let’s take a box of yogurt raisins, for example.  Raisins are good, right?  And yogurt?  Also good, right? And it’s such a teeny-tiny box.  How much harm can it do?

If we cruise over to the website for one popular brand, you’ll notice they’re quick to point out that this product is made from whole non-GMO fruit.  Interestingly enough, grapes are a berry.  First words outta their mouths and it’s a deception.

They go on about this being a “healthy” on-the-go snack and that raisins contribute to our daily intake of fiber, vitamins, and essential minerals.  There’s talk of antioxidant powerhouses, natural sugars and how this little cardboard box of goodness can help us reach our recommended daily servings of fruit.

Sounds good, right?  How can we possibly go wrong?

Take a closer look.   See that “+” symbol?  Let’s just click on that to see what they’re legally required to tell us while hoping we won’t bother to look.

Looks like there are 120 calories (45 of them from the raisins), 20% of your recommended intake of saturated fat (none of it from the raisins) and 18 grams of sugar (about half of it from the raisins).

There’s about ½ an ounce of raisins in each 1-ounce box of “yogurt” covered raisins.  That means you’d have to eat 8 boxes of raisins to equal one serving of fruit. 960 calories, 160% of your daily allotment of saturated fat and more than quadruple the recommended intake of sugar.  Still sound like a healthy snack?

What about all that fiber?  The vitamins and essential minerals?  Antioxidants? All less than 5% of your daily recommended intake.

Now take a look at the ingredients: Well, raisins.  We knew that.  But, what’s this? Yogurt-flavored coating?  Made from sugar, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, nonfat milk powder, yogurt powder (cultured whey and nonfat milk), whey powder, artificial color (titanium dioxide), soy lecithin– an emulsifier, vanilla, tapioca dextrin and confectioners glaze?  That doesn’t sound like yogurt to me.  I think a more apt description would be “candy-coated raisins”.


If you want yogurt covered raisins, why not stir some raisins into plain greek yogurt?  Add a drop of honey and vanilla to sweeten the pot.

One For The Road

What can be healthier than grabbing one of those ultra-high-calorie, sugar-packed, fat-inducing smoothies out of the cooler at your favorite convenience store?  Wait…what?  Aren’t smoothies healthy?  Many times the answer is no.

When you make a smoothie at home or buy one at your local hipster hub, chances are it’s made from whole foods, one of which is probably whole fruits or berries.  Commercial smoothies tend to be made from fruit juice.  Why is this important?

Let’s take a look at this commercial smoothie.

By their own account, this drink is made from the juice of 3½ apples, 1 banana, 27 blueberries and 3 blackberries.  It’s been non-GMO verified, has no preservatives and no added sugar. It’s been “boosted” (read: artificially introduced) with 6 vitamins and minerals and has 2 grams of fiber. That’s good, right?

Well, it contains more than 20% of your daily calories while only providing 12% of your daily fiber intake.  It also has 55 grams of sugar.  That’s more than double the recommended intake of daily sugar, according to the WHO.

It’s important to remember that when we eat whole fruit, we consume the naturally occurring sugar along with the naturally occurring fiber, which slows the rate at which our bodies take in the sugar.   When we remove the fiber and just consume the juice, it crashes into our bodies very quickly.  As a matter of fact, our bodies will react to this naturally occurring sugar in exactly the same way as manufactured, or added, sugar.

What’s In Your Sushi?

Sushi is generally considered to be healthy, nutritious and low calorie. It starts with rice and nori rolled around fish or vegetables but often there’s more than meets the eye.

Rainbow sushi is the T Rex of sushi:  it’s sushi rolled in additional fish.  While the fish provides high-quality protein as well as healthy fats, at 475 calories and 16 grams of fat it’s a bit too much of a good thing!

Shrimp tempura roll is another iffy choice.  It weighs in at over 500 calories and 21 grams of fat from fried shrimp.

See how easy it is to pack in some extra calories and unhealthy fats when we’re not paying attention?

If you want to keep it healthy, choose simple avocado and tuna rolls that come in at under 200 calories per serving (one roll or 6 pieces) with less than 5 grams of healthy fat.  California, salmon and spicy tuna are also good choices with less than 300 calories and about 10 grams of healthy fat.

Oh, and take it easy on the sauces.

The Bottom Line

I’m not asking you to never eat another convenience food as long as you live.  We all get tempted by what we see on the menu, at the corner store or in our kids’ Halloween pumpkins.  I’m not telling you to never treat yourself or never get unexpectedly hungry when you’re away from home (and all that healthy food).

All I’m asking is that you give it some thought, read the label, take a minute to find out what you’re actually putting in your body.  And always remember this:  If the packaging has to explain why it’s healthy…it’s probably not.

Stay well.

All my best,




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