If we can make one confident statement about healthy eating, it’s that we know that most of us should be eating fewer processed foods. Because for a long time, all of those foods have been labeled bad for us. But it turns out that how processed foods are made is what actually matters. These “bad for us” foods come in varying levels of unhealthy, so some might be totally fine to eat. We’ll break it all down for you, so we all know what foods to enjoy regularly, and what foods to avoid except for on certain occasions.
So, what exactly makes a food processed?
The reason we need to break processed foods down into smaller categories is because the term is too broad. When someone says processed food, it can mean any food — fruit, vegetable, meat, or dairy — that isn’t in a raw, untouched state. That means that plenty of processed foods are actually really healthy. So here’s a breakdown of the different levels of processed food, because it matters HOW processed a food is.
Unprocessed Foods: Eat all the time!
Fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, meat, and milk.
These foods are the closest to their natural state, and most of our diet should consist of these. But according to The Washington Post, our diet consists of only 30% unprocessed foods. So the goal is always to eat more of that.
A Little Bit Processed Foods: Eat most of the time!
Olive oil, bread, pasta, tuna fish, salted nuts, yogurt, frozen fruits and vegetables.
These somewhat processed foods are made up of any foods made from mostly unprocessed foods, but they’ve been processed a bit for convenience. Because the amount of processing is minimal, these foods are still okay to eat most of the time. When you’re eating grains, try to stick to mostly whole grains. Also, in those meals, try to also eat something from the unprocessed group to keep things balanced. The trick to finding these foods is to read the labels. Foods with only a few, pronounceable ingredients are likely okay.
Ultra-Processed Foods: Only occasionally!
Chips, sugary cereals, sugary yogurts, baked goods, fast food, chips, candy.
Once you mix together various processed foods to make something else, it becomes ultra-processed. Right now, according to The Washington Post, these foods make up 60% of our diet, and that should be reduced. We’re getting too many of our daily calories from foods that are often higher in fat, sugar, and salt. And while many of these foods are delicious, they’re not great for us. So we should try to limit these foods, but having them sometimes is totally okay.
This is super helpful and hopefully you’re a little more confident in your food choices. Because we are always looking for ways to eat just a little bit healthier.