Processed Food Confusion

Pop-Tarts, cold cereal, eggs, donuts, whole grain toast, and yogurt all have something in common…People eat them for breakfast! However, they do NOT effect your body equally.

Foods in their whole form, close to the way Mother Nature intended, boost our health. Yet, many families eat ultra-processed foods on a regular basis, perhaps even mistaking some highly processed foods as being neutral or even healthy. Many don’t realize the goodness of whole foods and the drawbacks of highly processed foods.

Consequences of Processed Foods:

Eating highly-processed food is linked with obesity, heart and circulation problems, diabetes, cancer, and possibly the rise in autoimmune diseases, like Crohn’s and celiac disease. Autoimmune diseases are genetic but are also spurred by an unknown trigger.

HIghly Processed to Minimally Processed

Highly processed foods are generally known as being made from refined ingredients, artificial substances, or are overly processed in some way. Honey, for example, is processed with intense heat, pressure, and heavy filtration that strips it of its raw nutrition. This makes it closer to how table sugar acts in the body. Although it doesn’t have other substances added to it, the chemistry is changed enough to deactivate valuable properties. This makes it a highly processed food. Try to eat raw honey! Ultimately, even foods that seem healthier can be deceptively altered to create health problems.

Processed food falls in a spectrum from minimally to heavily processed:

  • Minimally to somewhat processed foods: Often pre-prepped for convenience, or processed at its peak to lock in nutritional quality and freshness. Examples: bagged spinach, cut veggies, roasted nuts, canned tomatoes, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, canned tuna, etc.
  • Moderately processed foods: Ingredients (sweeteners, spices, oils, colors, and preservatives) are added to the food for flavor and texture. Examples: jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, cake mix, etc.
  • Heavily processed foods: Ready-to-eat foods. Examples: cereal, crackers, granola, gummy treats, deli meat, bacon, frozen pizza, pre-made microwaveable foods like bagel bites, etc.

The trick is distinguishing between lightly processed and heavily processed foods. Looking at the ingredient list can help with this. Buying foods with fewer ingredients isn’t as important as looking at what’s on the ingredient list. Ingredients should be mostly from whole foods or as close to it as possible. Below is a list of example ingredients to avoid:

  • corn syrup, brown rice syrup, honey, high fructose corn syrup
  • artificial sweeteners, margarine, artificial colors and flavors, excess salt and sugar
  •  chemical preservatives such as butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene (or BHA and BHT)

Whole Verses Processed Food Competition:

If there is processed food available, people will choose it over whole foods almost every time! It’s just how it is, so try to keep processed foods out of the competition. When I helped in my church nursery, the little ones 18 months to 3 years old ate processed Goldfish crackers–if they were available–over fruits and vegetables almost every time. They would happily eat whole foods until they were full when Goldfish crackers were not present.

Do yourself and your family a favor and eat whole foods or minimally processed foods instead of highly-processed foods. Join me this month in doing Fix #1 of my 12-Fix Wellness Plan to replace sugar, white flour, and processed foods with whole foods. Then continue to ADD another Fix each month with me! Pick up the book, 12 Fixes to Healthy, to use as a manual. My posts on my website,, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @FoodsWithJudes will also help you in adapting this 12-Fix Wellness Plan to your life. Go give them a follow!

Judith (aka Judes) Scharman Draughon, MS, RDN, LD is a registered, licensed dietitian nutritionist, author of 12 Fixes to Health: A Wellness Plan for Lifeas well as a corporate wellness speaker. Judes inspires many with her high-energy nutrition presentations, workshops, and seminars throughout the county. She is known as “Foods With Judes.”

Judes is passionate about her quest to empower people to make small changes that make a big difference. She can’t wait to empower you!

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Contributor: Ray Norton