Are All Processed Foods Bad? Ask a Nutritionist. December 6, 2019

Joanne M. Gallivan, M.S., R.D.N. is a registered Dietitian Nutritionist and volunteer at Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic. Prior to joining the Clinic, she served as the Director of the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP).

Are all processed foods bad?

There are thousands of processed foods in the grocery store to choose from. They are readily available, often quick and easy to prepare, taste good, and can save you time and sometimes money. Examples of heavily-processed foods include pre-packaged, canned and frozen foods and meals, deli meats, and jarred spaghetti and salad dressings. [How to Read Nutritional Labels]

But before you pile your grocery cart with these foods, think again. A recent study found that people who ate heavily-processed foods ate more calories and gained more weight than when they ate a diet of foods that was minimally processed. Foods that are minimally processed include fruits, vegetables, grains, plain nuts and dried beans, prepared without added large amounts of fat, salt or sugar.  This was the first study to show that eating a diet of heavily-processed foods causes people to eat too many calories and gain weight.

It’s hard to avoid all processed foods. Choosing some processed food as part of a well-balanced, overall healthy diet is doable. For example, canned low sodium beans are a great source of protein and easy to heat and serve. Canned tuna is great for sandwiches or part of a meal. Frozen fruits are a healthy choice when your favorite fruit is not in season. And frozen vegetables can be more nutritious than fresh ones that may have traveled days to get to your local grocery store.

Remember to read the label to help you make the healthiest choice. It will help you to pick processed foods that are lowest in sugar and salt.

Joanne M. Gallivan, M.S., R.D.N. is a registered Dietitian Nutritionist. She served as the Director of the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) in the Office of Communication and Public Liaison for the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from 1997-2016.  Previously, Ms. Gallivan has served as project manager for NIDDK’s Weight-Control Information Network (WIN), a national source of information on weight control, obesity, and weight-related nutritional disorders for health professionals and the public; as Contract Manager for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s National Cholesterol Education Program and Obesity Education Initiative, and as Director of the Prince George’s County Health Department Nutrition Division located in Maryland.

Barrier Islands Free Medical Clinic is a free clinic in Charleston, SC, that provides free medical care to eligible patients, just like any family practitioner or internist. The Free Clinic serves uninsured adults living at or below 299 % of the Federal poverty level who live or work on Johns, James, & Wadmalaw Island or Folly Beach, or serve the Hospitality Industry of Downtown Charleston. You can follow us on FacebookTwitterInstagram and YouTube.

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