Stories from Food and Nutrition

Some Processed Foods Can Be Part of a Healthy Lifestyle—As Long As They Don’t Have These 5 Ingredients

Erin Bunch

Erin BunchJanuary 7, 2020

Food can be… confusing. Should you be avoiding gluten at all costs? Gobbling up avocados as fast as humanly possible? Well+Good's nutrition experts are setting the story straight when it comes to food, cutting through the hype and hand-wringing and getting you the most comprehensive information on what you should (and maybe shouldn't) put in that body of yours. See All

Not all processed foods are the enemy. Check out a dietitian’s favorite packaged snacks here.

When January healthy food mania (keto, vegan, paleo, oh my!) makes your head spin, it can be tempting to default to the idea that processed foods are bad and everything else is, well, at the very least not going to kill you in moderation. After all, cutting back on processed foods (or eliminating them altogether) is a tentpole of most healthy eating plans.

However, it’s nearly impossible to avoid processed food entirely given the hectic pace of modern lifestyles (and the existence of Trader Joe’s), argues registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, in the latest edition of Well+Good’s You Versus Food video series. Rather than holding yourself to an incredibly difficult standard eating only whole foods, she suggests doing some simple label reading instead to suss out what processed foods to avoid and which ones to keep in your cart.

One ingredient that should always be avoided on anything processed: trans fats. “Trans fats have a bad reputation and for a good reason,” Beckerman says. “[They’re] solid at room temperature, which means they’re more likely to block our arteries and increase the risk for developing heart disease.” While trans fats have mostly been eradicated from our food supply thanks to FDA regulations, she notes that they can sneak into packaged foods under the alias “hydrogenated (or partially-hydrogenated) oil.” So, buyer beware.

She says you’ll also want to avoid high fructose corn syrup. Which, duh, but also… you’d be amazed at how often this ingredient still shows up on nutrition labels in 2020 despite being linked to today’s diabetes and obesity epidemics.

These are just the two best-known ingredients to which Beckerman wants to call your attention. Watch the video above to get the full list. It’ll make navigating the inner grocery store aisles a breeze when, as Beckerman puts it, “the #snackattack hits.”

Want more tips from Tracy? Here’s her take on added sugar, and what she wants you to know about Whole30.

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