Nutrition Meets Food Science

Are All Processed Foods Unhealthy?

When it comes to health making meals from fresh ingredients is the ideal option. But, in this fast-moving world, we do not have that much time. So, we often go for processed foods and ingredients that are easy to make, store and use. Although processed foods decrease the required time and effort, they have their pros and cons.

Often when we hear the word ‘Processed Food’, we automatically assume it as unhealthy as over the years it has gained such reputation. But actually, that is not the case; some processed foods can be a part of your healthy diet.

The term ‘Processed Foods’ refers to any food that has been changed from its original state in any aspect. It includes processes like canning, freezing, pasteurizing as well as washing, trimming, cleaning. So, the store-bought biscuits, chips, drinks as well as the fresh fruits, grains, raw ingredients both are processed. Then what sets them apart? It is the degree and method of processing. When we talk about processed food being unhealthy it refers to the highly processed food products with little or no resemblance to their original state. This is something that should be avoided. So, if we choose wisely processed food products can be a part of our healthy diet.

How to make wise choices when it comes to processed foods?

  • Make sure to read the label. A long list of ingredients containing the names of many food additives indicates that the product has been highly processed. Also, avoid or restrict the products that have high amounts of fat/oil, sugar and salt listed in the first few ingredients like in some snacks like chips, sugary drinks, candies, etc.
  • If you have the habit of munching on snacks now and then, go for healthier snack options like nuts, fresh fruits, yogurt instead of salted crackers or chocolates.
  • Try to get some healthier alternatives e.g. – choose a frozen pack of fruits and vegetables instead of ice cream or frozen pizza.

So, if the criteria mentioned above are followed then including processed foods in our diet can be a healthy choice. Here are some of the examples of healthier processed food choices-

Sr. No Product Benefits Caution
1. Breakfast cereals

  • High shelf life and convenient to use
  • High in dietary fibre
  • Often fortified with vitamins, minerals
Avoid high salt and high sugar varieties
2. Bread

  • Whole-grain bread is a healthier choice they provide fibre, heart-healthy fats and are low in GI
Choose wholegrain bread than white bread to get high fibre
3. Milk and yogurt

  • Milk provides bone-strengthening calcium
  • Yogurt provides probiotics
  • Milk is pasteurized to kill bacteria and homogenized to get a smooth creamy texture
Avoid products with high sugar contents and artificial flavours
4. Rice and quinoa

  • High shelf life [one year]·
  • High fibre content and easy to cook
  • Great source of starchy carbs
Avoid flavoured or high in salt varieties
5. Packaged cheese

  • It has natural cheese and emulsifiers which prevents fat separation and improve flavour, texture, and smoothness
Go for a salt-reduced variety
6. Canned legumes

  • Canning preserves the nutrients of the legumes making them as good as fresh
Choose low salt variant
7. Canned fish

  • High in omega-3-fatty acids which are heart-friendly
Sometimes more added ingredients other than oil and salt can be present so make sure to check the label
8. Ready-made meals

  • Go for healthier ready-made meals which provide the nutrients in the required portion size
Avoid high salt, high sugar, and low fibre varieties
9. Frozen fruits and vegetables

  • High in nutrients as they are freeze right away after harvesting
  • Sometimes can have more nutrients than the fresh fruits stored in the fridge or open


In conclusion, not all processed foods are unhealthy. Some are processed to ensure safety, quality and increase the shelf life without compromising on nutrients like freezing preserves the nutrients in frozen vegetables, pasteurization kills bacteria in milk and canning preserves nutrients as well as increases the shelf life which makes it possible to use the products year around easily. Hence making informed choices while purchasing processed foods by keeping in mind all the criteria stated above can surely help us to incorporate processed foods into our healthy diet.

(Article prepared using the information from

Ms. Prerana Patil

Food Technologist, PFNDAI

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