Nowadays, many processed foods rely on artificial ingredients for the sake of taste and preservability, a trend that has led to widespread backlash among health- and diet-savvy eaters. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to avoid all processed foods, particularly when matters of convenience and timing come into play. As you examine the nutrition labels on these foods in your grocery store, you’ll find that there are some lightly processed options that actually offer substantial nutritional benefits — and, as you may have guessed, some more heavily processed ones that are better left uneaten.
Read on to learn about 10 of the healthiest and unhealthiest processed foods available for your consumption.
Of course, not all breakfast cereals have healthy credentials to their names, but there are various multigrain, high-protein, and high-fiber options that can fuel up eaters for a big day. More often than not, these cereals are fortified with vitamins and minerals that can be enormously helpful in keeping your body in prime functioning shape, suggests Boston.com. And, as always with cereals — processed or unprocessed — watch out for high sugar contents!
Research in Scientific American suggests that Americans are not getting enough bone-strengthening vitamin D and calcium in their diets. Many varieties of yogurt are fortified with these vitamins, making this creamy snack a valuable tool in getting the vitamins and minerals needed to meet (and exceed) our body’s daily requirements. Not only is yogurt high in protein, writes The Huffington Post, but it is also a source of probiotics, which deliver significant digestive benefits.
Peanut butter, almond butter, cashew butter, and the other nut and seed butters are relatively minimally processed to a rich, creamy consistency. These products can be enjoyed along with fruits, breads, crackers, and more. Although they may be slightly processed, they are also high in valuable protein, monounsaturated fats, and the antioxidant vitamin E, reports Boston.com.
Many processed vegetables are “flash frozen” immediately after harvest. This process allows frozen produce to retain its peak vitamin and nutrient contents in the freezer. Having frozen vegetables is a healthful way to keep your family fueled and satisfied — one WebMD study even showed that a sampling of frozen broccoli contained more vitamin A, vitamin B2, vitamin C, and folic acid than their freshly purchased counterparts. Keeping frozen vegetables on hand also eliminates the worry of assembling a last-minute side dish, the stress of having to use up your veggies before they brown, and the expense of buying fresh produce year-round.
Although some iced teas are heavily processed and sweetened with artificial substances, there are refreshing alternatives that retain the light and natural qualities of their tea leaves. Lightly processed brands such as Inko’s use all-natural sweeteners like honeysuckle to achieve their refreshing tastes. These beverages offer a more organic approach to refreshing beverages than those sodas and juices sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup, observes Cooking Light.
Hot dogs and processed meat
Meat products are frequently the subject of rigorous processing methods, which aid in keeping these animal products both fresh and flavorful. Although these processes do serve a practical purpose, they can also have harmful effects. WebMD says that processed meats — that is, meats that have been smoked, cured, salted, or treated with chemical preservatives — have been linked to an increased risk in colon cancer.Reader’s Digest contends that these meats are typically higher in fat and sodium content than their unprocessed counterparts.
Portion-controlled frozen dinners may be an appealing choice for dieters short on time and energy, but can these defrosted meals really pave the way to a healthier you? In some cases, yes, but there are also some that pose a threat. NBC News reports that many calorie-conscious frozen dinners are not substantial enough to account for an individual’s entire dinner, often cutting out critical servings of grains and vegetables. These frozen meals can also be packed with sodium, frequently containing between 700 and 1,800 milligrams, barely shy of the 2,300-milligram recommended limit.
Potato chips are one of the biggest diet dangers out there, thanks to their high fat and sodium contents, and all-too-irresistible crunch. There are several points to watch out for when you’re picking some potato chips for your next party. On top of being empty calories, these snacks can often contain an artificial preservative called butylhydroxytoluene (BHT), a substance that the University of California at Berkeley advises dieters to approach with caution. Potato chip processing also boosts up sodium contents and, in some cases, artery-clogging trans fats, says Livestrong.
Margarine was first developed in 19th century France in response to a scarcity of butter. More recently, reports Health, the substance faced backlash for its artificial ingredients and trans fat contents, which help to keep it solid at room temperature. Trans fats will raise bad cholesterol (LDL) levels in the body, increasing risk for heart disease. Not all margarines are created equal, so be sure to check nutrition labels when shopping for butter and butter substitutes.
The average American drinks 45 gallons of sweetened sodas, energy drinks, and “fake” fruit juice drinks every year, reports Forbes — and these beverages are damaging more than just our waistlines.”We found what ends up being consumed in these beverages is … a fructose-intense concoction that could increase one’s risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and liver disease,” said Michael Goran, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center (CORC). Additionally, a study published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal has linked high phosphate levels in soda to accelerated signs of aging, Science Daily reports.