According to the American Heart Association, processed foods contribute to 50% of the calories and 90% of the added sugars in the American diet. As a rule of thumb, avoiding as much processed food as possible is the healthiest way to go. However, not all processed foods are created equal...
Processed meats fall under the category of any meat that has been preserved by adding chemical preservatives, curing, smoking, or salting. Although these meats can be an excellent source of protein, they have been identified as a class - 1 carcinogen by the American Cancer Society. Buy fresh or frozen meats to cook at home to avoid the carcinogenic preservation process.
Top carcinogenic foods:
- processed meats (bacon, sausage, salami, pepperoni, jerky, hot dog, etc.)
- burned / heavily BBQd foods
- alcoholic beverages
- salted fish, Chinese style
The biggest issues with soup is the copious amounts of added salt. Salt has been shown to raise blood pressure levels leading to higher risk of heart disease and stroke. However, not all cans are created equal...
Look for the heart-healthy check mark on the front of packaging to ensure the soup has met the heart-healthy criteria by the American Heart Association. Other things to look out for are 'reduced-sodium' or 'low-sodium' descriptions. As a point of reference, it is recommended that we consume no more than 2300mg or 1 teaspoon of salt per day.
Many processed snack foods (candy, chocolate, etc.) are high in sugar - an inflammatory which can lead to obesity and diabetes. Another hidden danger is the presence of trans fats in processed snacks which have been proven to cause cancer. In general, processed snacks should always be avoided.
Snacks which contain trans fats:
- microwave popcorn
- 'flaky' cakes and biscuits
- cream filled donuts
- certain fried foods (fries, chips, carnival food)
If uncertain about the trans fat content, check if it was made with partially hydrogenated oils (another name for trans fats).
Healthy Processed Foods
These have been lumped together because although technically processed foods, they lack the added chemical preservations that make the other foods so unhealthy.
- frozen vegetables
* Flash frozen vegetables have been shown to preserve the vitamins and nutrients better than fresh vegetables that have been sitting out for a while.
- chickpeas / canned beans
- peanut butter
Bread is a bit of a toss up – although it does not contain carcinogenic preservatives, the gluten in wheat is difficult for many people to digest, and causes more inflammation on average than other carb alternatives (rice, potatoes). This however, varies from person to person – many people can enjoy bread without any symptoms of intolerance.