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Can Processed Food Be Healthy?

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Can Processed Food Be Healthy?

Many of the foods Americans eat have been handled, or processed, one way or another – from salad mix and baby carrots, to canned pineapple, to frozen pizza, to chicken nuggets. Even some foods that are labeled “organic” can be processed. Check out our new infographic to get the scoop on processed foods.


There seems to be conflicting messages about processed food. Why? Likely because there are all types of processed foods. Some processed foods:

  • Include ingredients like salt, sugar, and fat
  • Have nutrients added (called “fortification”) think: vitamin D in milk
  • Are made for convenience (think: frozen meals)
  • Get processed to last longer on the shelf or for food 


Here are some examples of processed foods:

Minimally processed foods have been manipulated (cut, cooked, packaged) in some way. Think:

  • Baby carrots
  • Dried beans
  • Plain chicken breast
  • Milk

Some foods are processed with ingredients typically used in cooking, such as salt or sugar.  Think:

  • Bread
  • Canned fruits and veggies
  • Frozen fruits and veggies (without sauces or syrups)

Highly processed foods are manufactured with ingredients that are not typically used in cooking. Think:

  • Packaged chips or crackers
  • Instant soups
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Processed cheese singles

We know that you have an opinion on processed foods.

We did a survey of Americans like you, and asked several questions about processed foods. The folks that reported their opinions in the survey show us that:

  • 74% of you report preferring less sodium in processed foods
  • Almost 50% of you have tried to change your eating habits by eating fewer processed foods

So, can eating processed foods be a part of a healthy way of eating?

Most of the sodium we eat comes from processed, prepackaged, and restaurant foods,[3] not the salt shaker. Follow some of these tips to help you choose foods that work for you.

  • Check the food label
  • Look for the Heart-Check mark on the package
  • Cook more meals at home (and check out these recipes for yummy ideas)
  • Seek healthier alternatives to highly processed foods. Swap highly processed foods with less processed options.
  • Try fruits and vegetables on sale in the produce aisle, at the farmer’s market, or from your own garden.
  • Watch for the top sources of sodium (for adults): cold cuts and cured meats, , pizza, soups, breads, chicken, and burritos & tacos.

Take your food into your own hands. American Heart Association advocates have written more than 29,000 letters to the food companies and restaurants that provide processed foods, asking that healthier options be made available. You can too!