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Eating Processed Foods

Eating Processed Foods

A processed food refers to any food that has undergone some sort of alteration during preparation.

Processed foods encompass more than just microwave meals and ready-to-eat dishes

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Processing techniques can range from simple methods such as:

  • Freezing
  • Canning
  • Baking
  • Drying

While not all processed foods are unhealthy, some of them may contain excessive amounts of salt, sugar, and fat.

What Counts as Processed Food?

Some common examples of processed foods are:

  • Breakfast cereals
  • Cheese
  • Canned vegetables
  • Bread
  • Salty snacks, such as chips, sausage rolls, pies, and pastries
  • Meat products, such as bacon, sausage, ham, salami, and pâté
  • Microwave meals or ready-to-eat dishes
  • Cakes and biscuits
  • Beverages, such as milk or soft drinks

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It’s important to note that not all processed foods are inherently unhealthy. Some foods require processing for safety purposes, such as milk that must be pasteurized to eliminate harmful bacteria.

Additionally, other foods undergo processing to make them usable, such as pressing seeds to extract oil.

Why Are Some Processed Foods Less Healthy?

Processed foods may contain excessive amounts of salt, sugar, and fat, which are added to enhance their flavor or extend their shelf life. In some cases, these ingredients also play a role in the food’s structure, such as salt in bread or sugar in cakes.

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Consuming processed foods can result in people exceeding the recommended amounts of sugar, salt, and fat as they may be unaware of the amount that has been added to the food they are consuming.

These foods can also be higher in calories due to the high levels of added sugar or fat.

How to Incorporate Processed Foods into a Healthy Diet?

While you may not have control over the amounts of salt, sugar, and fat in processed foods, you have the power to choose what you buy.

Reading the nutrition labels can help you make informed decisions about processed products and monitor the content of fat, salt, and sugar.

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Most pre-packaged foods have the nutrition information displayed on the front, back, or side of the packaging.

If the processed food you are considering has a nutrition label that uses color-coding, you will often see a combination of red, amber, and green.

When choosing between similar products, aim to select those with more greens and ambers and fewer reds to make a healthier choice.

There are guidelines available to determine if a food is high or low in fat, saturated fat, salt, or sugar.

Guideline for Fat, Saturated Fat, Sugar, and Salt Content in Processed Foods

The following guidelines are intended for adults:

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Saturated Fat:

  • High: Over 5g of saturated fat per 100g
  • Low: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g


  • High: Over 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g of sodium)
  • Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g of sodium)


  • High: Over 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
  • Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g

Total Fat:

  • High: Over 17.5g of fat per 100g
  • Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g

If you are trying to reduce your intake of saturated fat, limit the consumption of foods that contain more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g.

It is recommended to limit the consumption of red and processed meats, which can be high in saturated fat, to no more than 70g per day.

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