What is processed food?

Processed foods are foods that are altered from the way they are found in nature.

Often we hear that we should eat fewer processed foods. This is because many highly processed foods contain:

  • more of the ingredients most of us get too much of, like sugar, salt and unhealthy fats, and
  • less of the nutrients that help promote good health, like vitamins, minerals and fibre.

At the grocery store or wherever you buy food, there is a range of processed food from minimally processed, like bagged prewashed spinach, all the way to highly processed, like candy or donuts.

Making healthier food choices

Choose unprocessed or minimally processed foods more often

Unprocessed foods are plant or animal foods as they are found in nature, like fresh Saskatoon berries picked from the bush or carrots from the garden.

Minimally processed foods include

  • fresh vegetables and fruit that have been prewashed and peeled or chopped
  • frozen or canned vegetables and fruit with no added sugar or salt
  • whole grains like brown rice, oats and quinoa
  • milk and plain yogurt
  • dried or canned legumes (beans, peas and lentils) with no added salt
  • fresh or frozen beef, chicken, fish, pork

Foods that are unprocessed or minimally processed tend to be healthier choices. Minimally processed foods, like frozen vegetables and fruit, or canned beans with no added salt, can make it easier to eat healthy.

The Healthy Grocery List provides mainly unprocessed and minimally processed food ideas.

Read labels to choose healthier processed foods

Read labels to choose healthier processed foods like tomato sauce, whole grain bread and canned fish.

Look for foods with fewer ingredients on the package ingredient list, and choose foods with little or no added sugar, salt or fat.

For more information about how to avoid highly processed foods, see:

Healthy Eating in the Community