Generally, when we're talking of processed foods our knee-jerk reaction is to say to get rid of them. And, I must admit that's not a bad idea, but is it realistic for you and is it realistic in this world? Probably not. After all, not only is it difficult to keep processed foods out of the house, but forget about eating out. It's impossible, even in vegan restaurants, to avoid processed foods.
So, what do we do instead? First, it might be helpful to understand the varying levels of food processing.
All food is processed in some way. Some people — sticklers for absolutes — say that when you pick an apple from a tree that qualifies as processing. We're not talking about that here. We are not going to be that picky. Foods that come to you as one ingredient without anything added to them (for example, an apple, a lima bean, a banana, etc.) are unprocessed foods… enjoy them all.
Minimally processed foods. This category includes those foods, such as canned beans, canned fruit, etc., that are packaged to preserve freshness and nutrients. As long as the package contains only recognizable food ingredients, we can classify it as minimally processed..
Processed foods. These foods have added ingredients including sugars, oils, salts, preservatives, flavorings, etc. to enhance shelf life and flavor.
Heavily processed foods. When reading the ingredient labels of these foods, the consumer will find names of unrecognizable and sometimes mysterious ingredients.
You don't have to think of healthy eating as all or nothing. Often we undermine our own progress in achieving healthier eating by thinking we must adhere to a set of rules 100%. Not so. Isn't it logical that avoiding eating processed food and heavily processed food 80% (or even 20%) of the time would be better for your health?
In addition, by reading ingredient labels carefully, you can make informed decisions and strive to eat toward the unprocessed and minimally processed end of the processed food continuum.