What are processed foods?

The term 'processed food' applies to any food that has been altered from its natural state in some way. This can be to improve the safety of the food or for convenience. This means you may be eating more processed food than you realise.

Processed foods aren't necessarily unhealthy, but anything that's been processed may contain added salt, sugar and fat.

One advantage of cooking food from scratch at home is that you know exactly what is going into it, including the amount of added salt or sugar.

Many recipes and home cooked foods will use processed ingredients.

Most shop-bought foods will have been processed in some way.

Examples of common processed foods include:

  • breakfast cereals
  • cheese
  • tinned vegetables
  • bread
  • savoury snacks, such as crisps
  • meat products, such as bacon, ham, sausages
  • "convenience foods", such as microwave meals or ready meals
  • drinks, such as milk or soft drink
  • ice cream
  • oils and margarines

Food processing techniques include freezing, canning, baking, drying and pasteurising products.

Some foods need processing to make them safer, such as milk, which needs to be pasteurised to remove the high amounts harmful bacteria. Other foods need processing to make them suitable for use, such as pressing seeds to make oil.

Anything that is in a jar, bottle , can, frozen meals, foods with sugar or preservatives added is a processed food.

Processed meat is meat that has been preserved in some way either by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives. This includes sausages, bacon, ham, salami and pâtés.

ALL snacks or and candy are prepared, preserved and have additives, like salt , sugar and/or artificial colors.

Ingredients such as salt, sugar and fat are added to certain processed foods to make their flavour more appealing and to prolong their shelf life, or in some cases to contribute to the food's structure, such as salt in bread or sugar in cakes.

This can lead to people eating more than the healthy recommended amounts of fat,sugar salt etc. as people may not read the labelling on foods that they are buying to eat. Processed foods can also be higher in calories due to high amounts of sugar or fat added to them.