According to the International Food and Information Council (IFIC), a processed food is defined as having, " any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat." (Find link here to read more). The article continues with mentioning that even foods with nutrient claims such as, "low fat," "high in fiber," or "organic" are also considered processed because they were handled (cut, enriched, fortified, frozen, freeze dried, packaged, harvested...etc) in a way that makes the food ready for us to eat.
So let me ask, do you like eating freshly cut fruit, quinoa, hummus, oats, yogurt, or chia seeds? Then you like "processed foods" because cutting fruit, harvesting grains and seeds, grinding up chickpeas and sesame seeds for hummus, and pasteurizing yogurt all are forms of processing.
Given these definitions, processed foods actually are not necessarily all unhealthy. The trick is to find the right processed foods that are nutritious as well as convenient to find. I included my own personal Snack Go-To List below to assist with finding healthy snacks anywhere- in fully stocked grocery stores to convenience stores, small cafeterias, or remote gas stations. Sometimes there are limited options, and I will not always fit the criteria for everything on this list, but trying to stay as close to this reference as possible helps me to stay grounded with my decisions.
<140 mg Sodium
15-30 grams Total Carbohydrates
At least 5 grams of protein and/or fiber
<250 total calories
(Please note that with different flavors and brands of the following foods below, the nutrition facts may differ slightly).
- SkinnyPop Single Serve Popcorn
- (150 calories, 75 mg Sodium, 15 grams of Total Carbohydrates, 2 grams of Protein, 3 Grams of Fiber)
- KIND Strong Granola Bars:
- (230 calories, 125 mg Sodium, 15 grams of Total Carbohydrates, 10 grams of Protein, 3 grams of Fiber)
- Hard boiled egg + 1 small 4 oz apple
- (140 calories, 0 mg of sodium, 15 grams of Total Carbohydrates, 7 grams of Protein, 3 grams of Fiber)
- 1 cup of grapes + baby bell cheese or nonfat cheese stick
- (140 calories, 170 mg of Sodium, 15 grams of Total Carbohydrates, 5 grams of Protein, 1 gram of Fiber)
- 1/2 all-natural, unsalted peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread
- (210 calories, 160 mg of Sodium, 20 grams of Total Carbohydrates, 9 Grams of Protein, 6 grams of Fiber)
- 1 small (6 inch) banana + 1/4 cup unsalted almonds
- (250 kcals, 0 mg of Sodium, 30 grams of Total Carbohydrates, 6 grams of Protein, 6 grams of Fiber
- 1 (6 oz) Oikos Triple Zero Greek Yogurt
- (120 calories, 65 mg of Sodium, 14 grams of Total Carbohydrates, 15 grams of Protein, 6 grams of Fiber)