The truth is that most of the food we eat is processed. For example, a peeled apple, pre-washed spinach, and yogurt are processed foods.

Do I eat processed foods? Absolutely. Just like anyone else, it is usually out of convenience and availability. However, the word processed has a very broad definition.

Any food that has been altered from its original state is considered processed.

The International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC Foundation) defines food processing as any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat.

This includes any food other than in its raw form that has been subject to processing, such as canning, cooking, freezing, dehydration, or milling. So the frozen wild organic blueberries that I rely on every morning are technically processed.

Use common sense.

Processed foods get blamed as the cause of our obesity and diabetes epidemic, among other diseases. But it’s a good idea to use common sense and be educated on processing and the different levels or categories of processing, ranging from minimally all the way to highly processed.

According to an analysis of grocery store purchases in the U.S. from 2000 to 2012, researchers from the University of North Carolina found that 60 percent of the calories we buy come from highly processed foods. Here is where the problem is real because highly processed foods also tend to be high in fat, sugar, and salt.

Not all processing is bad.

Processing in many instances allows us to have a food supply that is plentiful, safe, convenient, affordable, and nutritious.

Processed foods that are fortified with vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients can help people meet the recommended daily amounts for those nutrients they normally would not. One example is bread which provides iron, thiamin, niacin, and riboflavin, and folic acid, crucial for fetal development.

No processing level or category contains foods that are consistently all healthy or unhealthy. Processed foods like candy, snack chips, fried foods, fruit drinks, soft drinks, and desserts, are offering more calories, salt, and fat than nutrition. So limit these types of highly processed foods by using good judgment and reading labels and ingredients to watch out for hidden sugar, sodium, and fat.  

What type of convenience foods are worth keeping in our pantry?

Short answer: stay close to nature.

Get most of your nutrition from whole and minimally processed foods that make it convenient to eat foods closest to their natural state with as few added ingredients as possible.

For example, I always keep low sodium beans and lentils, packed in paper containers or pouches, in my pantry.

These are nutritious foods packed with protein and fiber that I can use to create a quick and easy meal when pressed for time.

Check out this video to find out more about what foods staples I always keep in my pantry. 

Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information