Diet & Nutrition

Processed Foods that are Actually Good for Your Health

Despite the various definitions of processed foods, public health officials seem to demonize the term. Statements like, “Processed foods are a primary contributor to the increasing prevalence of chronic diseases,” and “Avoid processed foods,”  seem to be widespread. However, almost all foods undergo some degree of processing before making it to our kitchen. Therefore, it is important to understand the definition of processed foods, levels of processing and most importantly, how to choose foods that will ultimately support our health and longevity. 


The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a Processed Food as: 

Any food other than a raw agricultural commodity, including any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, curing, dehydrating, mixing, packaging, or other procedures that alter the food from its natural state. Processing also may include the addition of other ingredients to the food, such as preservatives, flavors, nutrients, and other food additives or substances approved for use in food products, such as salt, sugars and fats. Processing of foods, including the addition of ingredients, may reduce, increase, or leave unaffected the nutritional characteristics of raw agricultural commodities.

Levels of Processing

According to the NOVA system to classify processed foods, there are four levels of processing:

Level 1: Unprocessed or Minimally Processed Foods

Foods that are in their natural state or have undergone slight alteration without changing the nutritional content of the food. 

Process: Cleaning, refrigeration, pasteurization, freezing, vacuum-packaging

For Example: Fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, meats and milk

Level 2: Processed Culinary Ingredients

Food ingredients derived from a minimally processed food 

Process: Pressing, refining, grinding, milling

For Example: Oils from plants, seeds and nuts, or flour and pastas formed from whole grains

Level 3: Processed Foods

Foods that are usually made from 2-3 ingredients and can be readily eaten without further preparation. 

Process: Addition of salt, sugar or fat

For Example: Canned fruits and vegetables, cheeses, freshly made bread, canned fish

Level 4: Ultra-processed Foods

Foods that have been altered in order to extend shelf life, preserve texture, and increase palatability. Some believe that producers design these foods to increase cravings to promote overeating. Most are low in fiber and nutrients. 

Process: Addition of artificial colors and flavors and preservatives in addition to the salt, sugar or fat. 

For Example: Sugary drinks, breakfast cereals, luncheon meats, cookies, chips

How to Make the Best Choices:

  • Firstly, shop the perimeter of the grocery store, as this is where you will likely find the least processed foods
    • Most ultra-processed, packaged foods are found in the inner aisles
  • Aim to fill your shopping cart with whole foods, or foods in their original state 
    • Example: Apples versus Apple Juice
  • When choosing packaged foods, look for the shortest ingredients list (in other words, avoid those with ingredients you can’t pronounce!)
    • For example, JIF Peanut Butter Ingredients: Made From Roasted Peanuts And Sugar, Contains 2% Or Less Of: Molasses, Fully Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (Rapeseed And Soybean), Mono And Diglycerides, Salt


    • Skippy Natural Peanut Butter Ingredients: Peanuts, Contains 1% Or Less Of Salt.
  • In addition, keep an eye out for added sugar, sodium and saturated or trans fats (as well as artificial colors or chemical additives)
    • Other names for added sugars: corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, agave nectar, cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, coconut sugar, dextrose, malt syrup, molasses, or turbinado sugar
  • Lastly, avoid getting nutrients confused with additives. Fortified foods have vitamins and minerals that are added back after processing.
    • For example: B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, niacinamide, folate or folic acid), beta carotene, iron (ferrous sulfate), and vitamin C (ascorbic acid)

Bottom Line:

Above all, prioritize foods from Levels 1 and 2, and if you’re buying packaged foods, stick to ones with the least amount of ingredients on the ingredients list. 

  • Important Disclosure Information: The information contained within this blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations.  If third party products or services are referenced in the above blog post, then Schultz Financial Group is providing that information for informational purposes only and is not recommending or endorsing any third party products or services. Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by Schultz Financial Group Incorporated), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this blog will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this blog serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from Schultz Financial Group Incorporated. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing. Schultz Financial Group Incorporated is neither a law firm nor a certified public accounting firm and no portion of the blog content should be construed as legal or accounting advice. A copy of the Schultz Financial Group Incorporated’s current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees is available for review upon request. Please Note: Schultz Financial Group Incorporated does not make any representations or warranties as to the accuracy, timeliness, suitability, completeness, or relevance of any information prepared by any unaffiliated third party, whether linked to Schultz Financial Group Incorporated’s web site or incorporated herein, and takes no responsibility therefore. All such information is provided solely for convenience purposes only and all users thereof should be guided accordingly.

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