Guest Post: Should We Avoid ALL Processed Foods?

Today's guest blogger is Joel from, a nutrition blog and app designed to help you reach your health goals.

The phrase 'processed foods' gets banded around all the time, but do we really know what they are? With such a bad rep, should we be avoiding all processed foods?

Let's take a look at what processed foods really are.

'Processed foods' are any foods that have been altered from their natural state, either to make them safe to eat or for convenience.

You may be consuming a lot of processed foods without associating them with the name 'processed'. Some common processed foods include:

  • Breakfast cereals
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Bread
  • Cheese
  • Crisps
  • Milk
  • Soft drinks
  • Ready meals
  • Some meat, such as bacon

In fact, processing includes anything that has been frozen, canned, baked, dried, pressed or pasteurised. Therefore, lots of food has been processed to make it safe to eat such as the pasteurisation of milk to kill harmful bacteria.

So why have they got such a bad name?

The processed foods that are the ones to watch are those with excess salt, sugar and fat added to them to make them taste more appealing or improve their shelf life. The reason for this being a cause for concern is that these ingredients may be in foods most people wouldn’t associate it with, such as a sugar laden microwave meal or salt in bread. This leads to people eating more than their recommended daily amounts of sugar, salt and fat, potentially without realising.

Processed meats are any meats that have been smoked, cured, salted or had preservatives added. Commonly consumed processed meats are bacon, pate, sausages, ham and salami. Consuming processed meats has been linked to higher risk of cancer or heart disease due to the high fat and salt content of them. In fact, the Department of Health has even recommended that processed and red meats should be cut down to 70g per day, that is the equivalent of 2-3 rashers of bacon or 2 slices of roast beef. 

So what can we enjoy as part of a healthy diet? 

Lots of processed foods are perfectly healthy and even home cooked meals may include processed foods; there is sometimes little you can do to avoid them. For instance, olives are pressed and hence processed to make olive oil, which is incredibly healthy. Tinned vegetables are classed as processed from the canning process they undergo, however, they are a great way to boost your 5 a say and have a much longer shelf life and cost less than fresh vegetables. Frozen fruit and vegetables also cost less than the fresh variety, the vitamins are preserved and they can conveniently be used all year round. As mentioned before, some food has to undergo processing to make it safe for consumption, such as the pasteurisation of milk. 

So they certainly can be enjoyed as part of a healthy diet. Most processed foods will say on the label how much fat, sugar and salt they contain so it’s just about being aware of what is a lot and should therefore be avoided.

The guideline numbers which will tell you if something is high or low in fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar  

Helpfully lots of food labels now operate by a 'traffic light' system which classes foods high in that nutrient in red, medium in orange and low in green. But for those that don't, here are the guideline numbers to tell you if something is high or low in fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar:

These are all per 100g of the food

Total fat
High: 17.5g and above
Low: 3g or less

Saturated Fat
High: 5g and above
Low: 1.5g and below

High: 1.5g (0.6g Sodium) and above
Low: 0.3g (0.1g Sodium) and below

High: 22.5g and above
Low: 5g and below

Cooking from scratch will always be the best way to know exactly what is in your food. You can wave goodbye to your microwaves meals with tonnes of brilliantly easy healthy recipes on my Nutrifix app.

Thanks for this amazingly informative post, Joel. If anyone else would like to write a guest post for me, please get in touch!

Click here to read other guest posts on Nic's Healthy Life.

Follow Me!