Yes, you read that correctly, processed foods can be part of balanced eating. The term processed is misleading, often times people think processed means unhealthy, which is just not true! So let’s start with the definition of a processed food per the USDA – any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to washing, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, etc. that alters the food from it’s natural state. This may also include adding other food substances or nutrients such as salt, sugar, fat and even vitamins/minerals. When we cook, we typically wash, cut, heat and add other food substances, so any time we cook we are processing a food.
The issue with processed foods stems from the extent of the processing. A range of processed items abound in our food system, from minimally processed cut veggies to ultra processed frozen pizzas. Let’s look at some examples: