Processed foods have been altered from their natural state for safety reasons and for convenience. The methods used for processing foods include canning, freezing, refrigeration, dehydration and aseptic processing.
We tend to think of processed foods as bad, but it turns out that many processed foods are not unhealthy. For example, milk would be considered a processed food because it is pasteurized to kill bacteria and homogenized to keep fats from separating. While some people prefer to drink raw milk, most of us should consume the "processed" version we find in our grocery stores.
Another healthy example of food processing is frozen vegetables. While fresh may be best, freezing vegetables preserves vitamins and minerals and makes them convenient to cook and eat all year around. Fruit and vegetable juice is also an example of a healthy processed food. In fact, some orange juice is fortified with calcium to make it even more nutritious.
Of course, there are a lot of processed foods that aren't good for you. Many processed foods are made with trans fats, saturated fats, and large amounts of sodium and sugar. These types of foods should be avoided, or at least eaten sparingly.
* Processed foods that may not be as healthy as fresh foods include:
* canned foods with lots of sodium
* white breads and pastas made with refined white flour, which are not as healthy as those made with whole grains
* packaged high-calorie snack foods, like chips and cheese snacks
* high-fat convenience foods, like cans of ravioli
* frozen fish sticks and frozen dinners
* packaged cakes and cookies
* boxed meal mixes
* sugary breakfast cereals
* processed meats
Processed meats might be some of the worst of these foods. Eating these meats may increase your risk of colorectal, kidney and stomach cancer. Processed meats include hot dogs, bologna, sausage, ham and other packaged lunch meats.
These processed foods and prepackaged meals are very convenient and popular. If you do shop for these foods, be sure to look for products that are made with whole grains, low in sodium and calories, and free of trans fats. Make sure you pay attention to serving size, too, and balance out the processed foods you eat with a delicious fresh salad and some whole grain bread.
Larsson SC, Wolk A. "Meat consumption and risk of colorectal cancer: A meta-analysis of prospective studies." Int J Cancer. 2006 Dec 1;119(11):2657-64. 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