Are All Processed Foods Bad?

Not all cereals and canned foods may present the same concerns. Find out more about processed foods and whether you should eat them here. 

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
2-minute read

Are All Processed Foods Bad?

Q. I’ve read that processed foods, like cereals and canned beans, are bad. But what about organic cereals that are low in sugar and sodium? What about organic beans with no added sodium and BPA-free cans? Are these OK or do all cereals and canned foods present the same concerns?

A. As a general rule, reducing your reliance on prepared and packaged foods and cooking more foods from scratch is a great way to improve your nutrition. But there’s a big difference between highly processed products that are loaded up with salt, sugar, and empty calories and the type of minimally processed foods you’re describing here.

You’ve put your finger on some of the primary concerns with food processing: Canned foods tend to be much higher in sodium than fresh foods and many cans are lined with BPA, a potentially harmful chemical. To the extent that you’re selecting products that contain no added sodium and are BPA-free, you’re sidestepping those perils. Ready-to-eat cereals are often shockingly high in sugar—but it sounds as if you’re seeking out healthier options. (See also: My Rule of Five when shopping for cereal.)

Assuming that your diet also contains a variety of fresh vegetables, protein, and other whole foods, it doesn’t sound to me as if you have too much to worry about. You’ll always find a couple cans of black beans, chickpeas, and tomatoes in my cupboard—wholesome, convenient, and versatile ingredients that I can combine with fresh foods to create a variety of nutritious meals.

See also: How far do we need to go to avoid processed food?

Pouring milk into a bowl with breakfast cereal from Shutterstock

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.