While processing foods can make them look nicer and last longer, the more processed foods are, the less healthy they are likely to be. Whole, minimally processed foods tend to contain more nutrients and less fat, sodium and sugar than highly processed foods, so avoiding the most processed foods can help you stay healthy.
Eating fast food more than twice a week may increase your risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in "The Lancet" in January 2005. While you can now get some dishes at fast food restaurants that are a bit healthier than others, most of these foods are too high in fat, calories and sodium and are better avoided.
Processed meats, such as bacon, ham, sausages, hot dogs and luncheon meats, are one of the least healthy protein sources you can choose. They increase your risk for heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, according to a study published in "Current Atherosclerosis Reports" in December 2012. These meats may also increase your risk for certain types of cancer, according to another study published in "PLOS Medicine" in 2007. Choose unprocessed meats, or, even better, opt for poultry, seafood or vegetarian protein sources like beans most of the time.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends consuming at least half of your grain servings in the form of whole grains. It would be even healthier to avoid refined grains and just consume whole grains. A study published in "The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in December 2007 found that people who consumed mainly refined grains were likely to have a higher body mass index, a larger waist and in increased risk for Type 2 diabetes compared with those who consumed more whole grains.
Avoid imitation or fake versions of foods, as these tend to be loaded with chemicals and artificial ingredients and aren't as healthy as real food. While additives used in foods have been classified as "generally regarded as safe" by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, some people are sensitive to some of these additives and experience unpleasant side effects. Skip the artificial sweeteners, imitation crab meat, soy versions of meats, fake lemonade and pancake syrup and stick to real foods.
Foods With Added Flavors
Although you can buy some foods, like yogurt or milk, in either plain or flavored versions, it is healthier to buy the plain version and flavor it yourself by adding fresh fruit or other natural ingredients. The pre-flavored versions tend to be very high in sugars and artificial ingredients. For example, while 6 ounces of plain yogurt have 12 grams of natural sugar, flavored yogurt has about 26 grams of sugar in a 6-ounce serving.
- The Lancet: Fast-food Habits, Weight Gain, and Insulin Resistance (The CARDIA Study): 15-year Prospective Analysis
- Current Atherosclerosis Reports: Unprocessed Red and Processed Meats and Risk of Coronary Artery Disease and Type 2 Diabetes – An Updated Review of the Evidence
- PLOS Medicine: A Prospective Study of Red and Processed Meat Intake in Relation to Cancer Risk
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Why Does Yogurt Have So Much Sugar?
- University of Kentucky Extension: Chemical Cuisine
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.