cnn.com – If nutrition headlines catch your attention, you’ve probably heard the advice to eat more fresh, whole foods and consume fewer processed foods.
It sounds straightforward enough, and you may have chosen to abide by this “food rule.” But like many topics in nutrition, the advice is not as simple as it sounds.
Before you do a pantry or freezer overhaul, keep in mind that “processed” is a very general term.
Some processed foods serve as important players in filling nutrient gaps and contribute to the availability of a safe and convenient food supply. Others are, well, pretty much junk food.
The challenge lies in knowing which ones to include in your diet and which processed foods pose a problem.
Processed Foods 101
Processed foods include any food that has been deliberately changed before we consume it. “I think it is important that people understand, anytime you alter the food from its natural state, that is actually considered ‘processed,’ ” said Kristi L. King, a senior registered dietitian at Texas Children’s Hospital and a national spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
According to the International Food Information Council, processing can be as simple as freezing or drying food to preserve nutrients and freshness, or as complex as formulating a frozen meal with the optimal balance of nutrients and ingredients.
Minimally processed foods retain most of their inherent nutritional and physical properties. Examples of these include washed and cut fruits and vegetables, bagged salads and roasted nuts.
Those, along with foods processed to help preserve and enhance nutrients and freshness of foods at their peak — canned tuna, beans and tomatoes, as well as frozen fruits and vegetables — are healthful and offer important nutrients.