Processed Foods

I saw a quote recently that said, “Society eats so much junk food that eating real food is considered a diet.” 

How true this is! Isn’t it interesting that eating whole-foods is considered a “whole-food diet” because processed foods are so readily available to us? Before you choose a food, a fun practice is to ask yourself, “Would my grandmother recognize this as food?” The thought behind this is that foods have strayed so far from their original form that they are unrecognizable. Think about Doritos. The first ingredient is corn, but if you didn’t know these were corn chips, you would likely never recognize corn as the whole-food this originates from. 


 There are very different forms of processing, and some degree of processed foods can fit within a very healthy lifestyle. The strict definition of a processed food is: any foods that has been changed from their natural state. Blending fruit into a smoothie is a form of processing it, bread is a processed form of wheat, and chopping lettuce is, in a form, processing it! So do hear that not all processing is bad! A great rule of thumb when considering processed foods is to minimize foods where anything harmful is added or any nutrients are taken away.

Today we will focus on ultra-processed foods (UPFs).

Ultra-processed foods are those in which the  original form of the food is unrecognizable. They are typically higher in calories, salts, fats, and added sugars. Ultra-processed foods typically have minimal nutritional value or have had nutrients removed. Removing ultra-processed foods from your diet and replacing these with whole, nutrient-dense foods is a great start to meeting your health goals. A diet high in processed foods can lead to:

  1. Inflammation
  2. Weight Gain
  3. Increased Risk of Chronic Illness such as Heart Disease and Diabetes
  4. Increased Risk of Cancer

So, how can you begin to eliminate UPFs from your diet? The first step is to clean out your pantry! You can most likely recognize ultra-processed foods that are already in your pantry, but here are some hints to lookout for (these are not hard rules, but good signals). 

Image from: Dr. Sandro Demaio

Look for foods that are:

  • Made with a long list of  ingredients (typically greater than 5)
  • Made with multiple ingredients that you do not recognize
  • Bought packaged and ready-to-eat
  • Have nutrients taken away (white-breads, sweets, juices)
  • Contain high amounts of sodium, sugar, fats, or preservatives 

As you begin to clean out your pantry of ultra-processed foods, remember that for now, your lifestyle change is not keeping them in the house. We are not asking that you completely eliminate foods or food groups, but buying them less often and intentionally deciding when you would like to eat them starts with deciding what you will be keeping in the house. What a great first step you are taking today!

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