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Why You Shouldn’t Avoid All Processed Foods

Hi friends! I haven’t done a WIAW (What I Ate Wednesday) in a while, so what better day than to link up with some of my favorites for a food-frenzy? These eats are from Monday, which was a long day back after Thanksgiving break.

Long in the good way, though. I love my clients.

We’ve all heard the phrase, or something like it:

Eat foods close to the earth, and avoid things in packages.

Avoid processed foods.

I’m here to tell you otherwise.

Processed Foods graphic

A large part of this idea is true. Processed foods are normally higher in calories, sodium, sugar and fat. But, not all processed foods are created equal. A box of Kraft Mac n Cheese is not the same as microwaveable brown rice.

Now, we could get really nit picky here and determine what “processed” really means. When we make our own soup, or dressing in a food processor, aren’t we “processing” ingredients? Technically, yes. But, what about a Whole Grain Van’s waffle, made with barley, oats, brown rice, quinoa and millet flour? Sure, that’s processed, but isn’t it different than a regular frozen Ego waffle?

Or, think about those awesome, convenient protein bars and snack bars. Most of those are processed! You can’t find those bars growing out of the ground!

As you can see, what you consider processed really depends on your unique definition.

My definition of processed foods includes those that have a long(er) shelf life, are sometimes more cost-effective, and have an alternative to make it more wholesome. So, let’s use ketchup as an example.

Ketchup is the most processed, canned tomatoes are semi-processed (long shelf life, thanks to sodium and acidity), but actual tomatoes are not shelf stable. They will rot if you don’t use them in an allotted amount of time. Canned fish is another example. While it would be closer to the earth to get fresh tuna or salmon, it’s more cost effective and convenient to get canned (which has been processed). It also has a longer shelf life, so we don’t have to worry about it going bad.

By the way, these turmeric salmon burgers use canned salmon and are delicious!

Does that mean canned tomatoes are a poor choice since they are semi-processed? Absolutely not!

I believe processed foods can have a seat at the table and still be part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle. After all, life is busy! We are faced with choices everyday. However, if we’re choosing canned tomatoes to add to our salad or pasta, rather than buying a microwaveable meal with tomatoes in them, I think that’s a solid choice!

Additionally, if we’re picking up pre-cut veggies rather than fresh ones from the farmer’s markets, or grabbing rolled oats rather than steel cut, those are still good choices. We even deserve credit for picking out dried herbs rather than fresh to flavor our food! It’s all about small changes, and sometimes the healthiest choice is the most convenient one. Including these foods in our diet at all is a good thing.

So, here are some of my favorite processed foods that I eat daily and weekly:

My Favorite Processed Foods:

  • Canned tuna and salmon
  • Hummus
  • Deli meat
  • Canned beans
  • Frozen Fruit
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Canned Beets
  • Yogurt
  • String Cheese

My Favorite Packaged Foods:

  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Kashi Crackers
  • Chocolate Chips
  • Whole Wheat Bread
  • Microwaveable Brown Rice
  • Whole Wheat Gnocci
  • Graham Crackers
  • Rice Cakes
  • Dried Figs
  • Chex Cereal
  • Rolled Oats

processed foods, leftovers


Like anything, it’s meeting people where they are.  While there are certainly better choices for processed foods than others, we shouldn’t feel shamed for choosing them occasionally.

Just because something is processed doesn’t mean it can’t fit into our lifestyle. It can (and should) still have a place at our table and that’s A okay.

Linking up with Amanda for Thinking out Loud!

Favorite convenience item? Mine would have to be canned beans. I couldn’t live without those!

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  1. I agree that it’s unrealistic to avoid all processed foods. I would spend all day (and night!) in the kitchen if I made everything from scratch. And there are more and more healthy options will fewer artificial ingredients.

  2. I love this post, Sarah! Not all processed foods are created equal. Canned beans, frozen fruit, yogurt, etc. are a staple in my house and are one of the main reasons I am able to maintain a healthy and balanced diet on a busy schedule (and on a limited budget)!

  3. ALL FOOD is processed to a certain degree, so I find it funny when people say they don’t eat processed foods, because…. Even those vegetables are processed 😉 hahahaha!

  4. This is such a great reminder. All I hear is people talking about they’re trying to avoid “processed” foods when a) they don’t know exactly what it means and b) it just makes their lives much harder. Plus, it’s not just about following some rule you THINK you should be following – it’s about eating what makes you feel the best. So if canned fish and beans make you feel good, why avoid them?! I couldn’t live without peanut butter, which I would say is processed because I buy Jif natural.

  5. I love this post so much! We all need to find a balance in our life if we want to eat in a way that’s sustainable.

    Canned beans are definitely a favourite of mine – especially as I can’t find raw beans that aren’t contaminated with gluten!

  6. I’m addicted to ketchup =P No shame at all. Also canned beans are a life saver! However, my favorite convenience food is definitely peanut butter.

  7. really agree with you on this- just because something is processed doesn’t make it bad!
    favorite convenience item? probably canned soup!

    1. It’s such an individual term! I just hope people understand that everything that comes in a package isn’t necessarily loaded with sugar, fat and salt. There are some important main stays!

  8. This is so true! For a well balanced diet it’s impossible to stay away from some cans and packaging. I like the saying, “shop the perimeter of the grocery store” where things are fresh. But at the same time there are plenty of healthy items in the aisles, it’s all about the choices you make. And I could probably not survive without oats and canned tomatoes. We use those weekly in our house!

    1. Shopping the perimeter can be a great start, but like you said, so many great things are in the aisles if you know what to look for! Grains and legumes are some of my favorite pantry staples.

  9. Huh. This is so good. I guess I’ve always linked the word “processed” with things more like Kraft KD and luncheon meats with 10 different preservatives in them. I never thought about the actual verb “processed,” which would include things like canned fish and canned tomatoes, or heck, even rolled oats!?? I don’t see adding water or acidity or a natural stabilizer as anything that bad (??) so I guess I’ve never thought of these things as being “processed.” I’m glad I don’t – because if I held negative connotations about ANYTHING processed then my diet would be so limited! It would be really hard and take so much extra time to try and limit any form of processing. I need canned tomatoes for my chili!

    1. Exactly – it would be insane to think of not including any semi processed things in our diets. I don’t see adding those things as negative either – they make my life easier!

  10. Such a great post and I completely agree! I think if you are new to healthy eating, it definitely helps to hear this. It makes the whole thing more manageable. PS waffles on your smoothie bowl? genius

    1. I’ll definitely be adding waffles again! I think it helps to uncomplicate what healthy eating really means. It’s not whole foods, unprocessed, no sugar added all the time 🙂

  11. I really love chocolate and salt and vinegar chips… I’m glad someone processed those for me ;). I also use bread, cottage cheese, salsa, almond milk, etc. I buy a ton of food in it’s raw form, but convenience is important for my sanity too.
    I want a morning in Starbucks now!

  12. So many good points here! Its so hard to describe foods with labels because we all tend to define them differently. For awhile I was trying to avoid processed foods as much as possible but i have realized its much more realistic to eat some processed foods for convenience and cost. Its all about just looking at the big picture and making the best choices you can (most of the time).

  13. So true! I wrote a blog post about this same topic a few weeks ago. “Processed foods” really is such a misnomer considering the range of products that fall under that name. As long as you aren’t ONLY living off of processed foods, I think you’re doing good! 🙂