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What’s Your Process on Limiting “Processed” Foods?

“Eat Clean” “Eating Real Food” “Eating Whole Foods” are all common phrases people say when they’re trying to eat healthier. Often, when people describe what this means, they’re suggesting to not eat any processed foods. However – that may be stretching

By: Kelly Atyeo-Fick, B.A.Sc., M.H.Sc., P.H.Ec.

“Eat Clean” “Eating Real Food” “Eating Whole Foods” are all common phrases people say when they’re trying to eat healthier.  Often, when people describe what this means, they’re suggesting to not eat any processed foods.  However – that may be stretching the truth just a bit. Technically speaking, if an ingredient has been modified in anyway – it has been processed.1 For example, whole grains turned into bread! Long story short is that not everything that has been processed is necessarily bad for you.1

However, it is important to recognize that some heavily processed foods may contain ingredients that don’t benefit your overall health.  This includes having too much sugar, salt and fat.1,2

Examples of heavily processed foods include: cakes, baked goods, white bread, ready to eat meals, and deli meats.1,2

Rather than thinking of foods as processed or unprocessed, try eating foods that come close to their most natural form.

Here are some great ways to limit heavily processed foods:

Meal plan

This is one of the best ways to eat less heavily processed foods.  By meal planning you can think about what ingredients you will be using to make healthy meals for you and your family.  It will also prevent you from throwing a microwavable meal on the table or going to a fast food restaurant at lunch.

When planning, centre your meal around a nutritious protein like fresh chicken – this will help keep you full for longer!  Chicken is so versatile and provides a complete source of protein in every serving. 

Depending on the size of your family, make it a routine to roast 1 or 2 chicken during the week and use the leftover meat in different meals.

Add fresh ingredients like seasonable vegetables and whole grains to complement your chicken.  This simple chicken recipe is a good base for a weekly minimal processed meal:

Honey Lemon Chicken

Freeze Your Foods

Some people resort to purchasing processed foods because they don’t have access to fresh ingredients or they haven’t gone grocery shopping.  This makes freezing some staples a good idea!  Try having a “cooking day” and make certain foods in batches.  You can freeze any meal with chicken for 2-3 months and that way if you are running low on groceries – you can have a quick meal in no time.3 Just be sure to allow enough time for it to thaw!

Make Your Own Marinades/Dressings

There’s nothing worse than cooking fresh ingredients and then hiding their flavour with a sauce that has a million ingredients in it that you can’t pronounce.  Keep your cooking simple by making your own marinades/dressings for fresh chicken, fish, other meats and salads.  If you don’t have time to make your own, when you’re buying a marinade or dressing, try looking for one that is not loaded with sugar or sodium and contains no MSG.

Shave Chicken vs. Deli Meat

Deli meat is an easy go-to for sandwich meat, but if you want to avoid processed foods – you might want to try replacing it for other alternatives.  Try using shaved chicken!  You’ll get the same amount of protein and not have to worry about getting as much sodium and nitrates.  Chicken strips are also a great addition to sandwiches and wraps.

Fresh Chicken Wraps

Shop the Perimeter

When you’re shopping it is no surprise the perimeter of a grocery store will allow you to avoid many heavily processed items.  You’ll hit the produce aisles, fresh meat, poultry, seafood and dairy sections.  That’s going to help you find ingredients that are minimally processed that you can use as the base for your healthy meals.  Of course you can venture to the middle aisles, just be aware that some items in these sections might be more on the heavily processed list…and items you may consider limiting in your everyday diet.


  1. NHS Choices. (2014). Eating Processed Foods. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Goodfood/Pages/what-are-processed-foods.aspx
  2. EatRight.org. (2015). Processed Foods: What’s OK, What to Avoid. Retrieved April 30, 2016, from http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/avoiding-processed-foods
  3. EatRight Ontario. (2016). Freezing 101. Retreived April 30, 2016, from https://www.eatrightontario.ca/en/Articles/Food-safety/Freezing-101.aspx


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