What Is Processed Food?

Ideally, we’d shop the farmers’ market every day for fresh, local foods, and make all of our goodies from scratch. In reality, we live far from our food sources, have to buy foods we can store on the shelf, and barely have time to eat dinner, much less prepare it.

Processed foods are convenient, and not all of them are bad for you: pre-chopped vegetables, or fruits canned in their own juice, are just two examples.

Sometimes, however, convenience can mean large amounts of hidden sodium, fats, and sugar, which are always bad news. Read on to learn which processed foods to avoid and why.

What processed foods do you avoid in the grocery store?


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Bacon contains high levels of sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure. And sodium is just the beginning.

Part of the reason why bacon is so delicious is because it’s loaded with saturated fat. Saturated fat is linked to heart disease and obesity. Danger also lurks in virtually all store-bought bacon because of how many preservatives it contains, which are related to every health concern from headaches to cancer.

Granola Bars

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Consider the granola bar, also known as the cereal bar. They are stuffed with hearty grains and packaged in boxes featuring mountains and sunrises. So wholesome!

Too bad granola bars are also loaded with added sugars, which digest quickly and don’t satisfy hunger for long. Despite their healthy marketing image, granola bars don’t offer much in the way of good nutrition. Avoid them for their high simple-carbohydrate count and the long ingredient list filled with difficult-to-pronounce words.

Instant Ramen

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Most college students have had the experience of powering through finals week fueled only by ramen and cheap coffee. Warning: Do not continue this habit beyond your senior year. Better yet, stop now.

A packet of ramen can contain nearly 2,000 milligrams (mg) of sodium, which is 500 mg more than the American Heart Association’s daily recommended intake. That boosts blood pressure, which could lead to stroke. Additionally, with simple carbohydrates making up most of the other ingredients, ramen provides almost zero nutritional support. You should also check out the amount of fat in ramen noodles. Who knew so many unhealthy things could come in such a small package!

As a healthy meal, instant ramen gets a failing grade.

Dried Fruits

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You might reach for a handful of raisins or a few spears of dried mango to satisfy a sweet tooth. There’s probably a really good reason they are so satisfying. These dried fruits are a better option than Skittles, since they have a good amount of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Be careful with the portion, however — even a small portion carries a high-calorie, high-sugar punch.

The extra sugar also promises weight gain. If you eat more than your body needs, it adds to your body’s fat store.

Flavored Nuts

Flavored nuts have a shelf of their own in the sounds-good-for-you-but-isn’t pantry.

Whether they are maple-flavored, soy sauce- and wasabi-dusted, or coated in toffee, flavored nuts are packed with extra salt and sugar. This extra salt and sugar can lead to weight gain, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Their sticky, sugary goodness also makes them the enemy of healthy teeth.

Fruit Snacks

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An enemy of both your teeth and waistline, fruit snacks may be the grocer’s most inaccurately named food. Most varieties are packed with high fructose corn syrup and cane sugar — which could lead to weight gain, which can increase your risk for diabetes — and contain only a drop of actual fruit ingredients.

Their extra sugar and gelatinous ingredients also stick to teeth, providing an ideal environment for bacteria to create cavities.


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There was a time when margarine was considered the healthy alternative to butter. However, the truth is that some margarine contains a lot of trans fats, which is considered more unhealthy than any other fat, including saturated fats.

Trans fats increase bad cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Although the link between trans fatty acids and cancer is unclear, Johns Hopkins Medicine is just one institution that suggests lowering these fats as a part of their dietary recommendations for cancer patients and survivors.

Microwave Popcorn

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There’s nothing wrong with popcorn (as long as you go easy on the salt and butter) and there’s nothing wrong with microwaving food. So what’s so bad about microwave popcorn?

It’s in the bag. Perfluoroalkyls are just one class of chemical found in microwave popcorn bags. Studies have linked perfluoroalkyls with health problems as diverse as kidney disease and poor semen quality.


“Catsup” or “ketchup”? No matter where you stand on the spelling debate, America’s favorite condiment spells bad news.

While a little dollop of ketchup is fine, the amounts we slather onto our burgers and fries is problematic, as is the frequency.

The tomatoes in ketchup are so diluted by sugar and salt that they offer no natural value. With most of the calories in ketchup coming from sugar, you might as well sprinkle your fries with sugar!

Frozen Dinners

Frozen dinners are the next best thing to takeout: a complete meal of vegetables, entrée, and starch, all on one plate, right out of the microwave.

However, frozen dinners are often loaded with sugars, fat, and sodium. Those additives can lead to weight and heart problems. They can also raise your blood pressure, putting you at danger for stroke. If you do get frozen meals, focus on organic meals with an ingredient list full of foods you recognize.

All Things in Moderation

Processed foods are not a modern convenience — they’ve been around since the first barrel of salt-pork sailed across the Atlantic. They provide convenience and give us access to foods that would otherwise perish in transit.

Enjoy them in moderation, and use your common sense. Check the nutrition labels to avoid anything high in fats, sugars, and chemicals you can’t pronounce. Be sure to make fresh, simple ingredients the focus of your diet.