So you eat healthy, but if you’ve never considered your olive oil or salted nuts to be processed foods before, then you probably need a refresher in what exactly “processed food” means.

Processed foods. The term has come to mean anything that comes in packaging. But it’s how we process the food that matters the most. It’s generally advised to eat less processed food and more fresh food items, but there are levels to what that even means.

Consider that a plain baked potato is better for you than french fries which are better for you than those boxed mashed potato flakes—No amount of water can wash away the processing atrocities done to that poor vegetable.

But further consider that not all processing is detrimental. Some foods undergo changes that actually make them equally or more nutritious when processed like freezing, fermenting or sprouting.

Cara Rosenbloom, registered dietician and president of Words to Eat By, a nutrition communications company specializing in writing, nutrition education and recipe development advised the The Washington Post that researchers have developed four basic groups of processed foods to consider in making healthy diet choices.

If you’re unsure where your olive oil or salted nuts or maybe canned fish or sourdough bread fall on the processed scale, find the whole article on The Washington Post.

Rosenbloom writes:

  • Group 1 – Unprocessed and minimally processed foods: This group includes basic whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, meat and milk. If processing is used, it’s to preserve shelf life, such as freezing vegetables and vacuum-sealing meat. This group makes up about 30 percent of the calories we eat—but the number should be higher for these nutritious options.
  • Group 2 – Processed culinary ingredients: These foods enhance the flavor of meals and include olive oil, salt, honey and dried herbs. Some like olive oil are more nutritious than others like sugar, but they only account for 3 percent of our calories when used in basic cooking, so they aren’t the main concern.
  • Group 3 – Processed foods: Foods that undergo some processing and contain just two or three ingredients fall into this group. Examples are canned fish, salted nuts and sourdough (fermented) bread. We get about 10 percent of calories from these foods. Many of these items are nutritious and make it more convenient to cook at home.
  • Group 4 – Ultra-processed foods: If you take processed (groups two and three) foods such as enriched flour, sugar and high fructose corn syrup, add food coloring, and put them into a Pop-Tart, you get an ultra-processed food. The foods in this group are the result of industrial formulations of five or more usually cheap ingredients. These foods provide almost 60 percent of our calories, but that number needs to be much lower. People who consume more ultra-processed foods have a greater risk of obesity, hypertension and high blood sugar levels, which can lead to heart disease and diabetes. Other examples of ultra-processed foods are candy, instant soups, ice cream, breakfast cereals, soda and hot dogs.

For more on deciphering what exactly processed foods mean to your body and your diet, finish reading on The Washington Post.


(h/t The Washington Post)




Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.