Processed foods aren’t just microwaved meals and other ready meals. The term ‘processed food’ applies to any food that has been altered from its natural state in some way, either for safety reasons or convenience. This means you may be eating more processed food than you realize.
Processed foods aren’t necessarily unhealthy, but anything that’s been processed may contain added salt, sugar and fat. One advantage of cooking food from scratch at home is that you know exactly what is going into it, including the amount of added salt or sugar.
However, even homemade food sometimes uses processed ingredients.
What counts as processed food?
Most shop-bought foods will have been processed in some way. Examples of common processed foods include breakfast cereals, cheese, tinned vegetables, bread, savoury snacks such as crisps; meat products such as bacon; “convenience foods” such as microwave meals or ready meals; and drinks, such as milk or soft drinks.
What makes some processed foods less healthy?
Ingredients such as salt, sugar and fat are sometimes added to processed foods to make their flavour more appealing and to prolong their shelf life; or, in some cases, to contribute to the food’s structure, such as salt in bread or sugar in cakes. This can lead to people eating more than the recommended amounts for these additives, as they may not be aware of how much has been added to the food they are buying and eating. These foods can also be higher in calories due to the high amounts of added sugar or fat in them.