Save. Spend. Splurge.

What do people mean by ‘processed’ foods? What counts?

This is my own personal definition of it, and others might disagree, but when I say: I don’t eat canned or processed foods, this is what I mean..

For me, the simplest way to describe it is that processed food is anything that came from a plant that has been modified in some way (added ingredients for preservation for instance), and/or is packaged and not a raw piece of food, fruit, vegetable or legume you are holding.

Raw fruits and vegetables go to plants to be sorted, but then they get boxed and shipped here. They don’t add anything after picking them (but they could add pesticides BEFORE picking them)..

The easiest things to point out as being processed are things that don’t look like their original state:

  • Boxed Dinners (Macaroni and Cheese for instance)
  • Soups (Anything in a can or a powder form)
  • Frozen meals (Pizzas, Lasagnas)

For me however, this also includes canned or frozen foods.

You may think: Why? It’s 100% FROZEN, FRESH CARROTS!! Why would that be considered processed?

The food in cans, sit in chemicals to be preserved. Just read the label.

When you eat canned green beans, they look nothing like fresh green beans — they’re limp, mushy, and a bit browny-green rather than a crisp bright green.

The food that is frozen, has to be chopped, cut, stems peeled off, pits removed, and then flash frozen. That’s processed in some way, although not as badly as canned or boxed foods.

This for example, is UNprocessed food:




Even tofu, is something I consider to be processed.

It’s originally a soybean, but suddenly it turns into this lump of tofu?

They have to boil, cook, add limestone and do all these things to soybeans before you get TOFU, and that’s a processed food.

Sauces are another area that people forget that is processed — sauces have to be cooked in big vats, spices added, and then canned or put into jars to be delivered to you.


Hang on!

I avoid anything that looks like whole ready-to-go meals in boxes or prepared frozen meals, or sauces, 100% of the time.

I also avoid powders like bouillon cubes or soup mixes, but things like spices that are ground, are fine.

What I don’t avoid is stuff that is semi-processed or as close to natural and raw as possible.

This is where the grey area gets tricky.

For instance, I’d consider frozen vegetables to be semi-processed and okay to eat, except … why would I buy frozen vegetables when I can buy them fresh?


90% of the time, I don’t buy semi-processed foods, but there are exceptions, and where I can’t avoid certain things is like buying mozzarella cheese (or yummy cheese in general!) — I’m not about to make it myself, yet.

Or pasta.

I don’t make pasta by myself, but you can tell by whether or not you can see flecks of wheat or flour on the pasta, whether or not it is highly processed or semi-processed.

Really good pasta, is not uniform in colour and tone, and has flecks of the grains that went into the flour to make them, visible.

Really bad pasta, looks bright yellow, very even-toned, uniform, and probably tastes as bland as it looks.

I avoid really bad pasta, I eat the semi-processed pasta.

I also like drinks once in a while (obviously), and they come in bottles or cans, and they are OBVIOUSLY processed.

I also like deli meats, but once in a while.

Semi-processed food makes it into my diet, but I don’t eat like that on a daily basis, and even then, I have to think hard about what it really is.


If the sauce is bright red, bright orange, bright yellow or any other colour that you know not to be natural (think: Sports Drinks), then it is processed.

Even chefs will tell you things like: Unnatural colours are a sure sign that it’s processed. (Think: Kraft dinner cheese).

Real food tastes better for one thing, but it also means that I’m hyper-vigilant on checking ingredient boxes, thinking about how they make the product before getting it to me (e.g. soybeans to tofu), and what I’ll end up eating.

It also means I generally don’t eat prepared meals, and I am slowly avoiding restaurants for pretty much the rest of my life.

I am also not saying you should do what I do either.

I understand that my view is rather extreme, but it’s great news to me if you start thinking twice about what you eat the next time you go to pick up a sandwich.


  • Tania

    If I’m doing well on my eating (big if), I’d say I stay away from any food product in a container with ingredients that I can’t visualize or explain in their natural state. For example, my favorite boxed organic soup lists ingredients simply as tomatoes, salt, water, etc while mass market canned soup contains ingredients with names that belong in a chemistry lab. One could argue that I should just mix my own ingredients in a food processor and do away with the box altogether but I do what I can. Certain bottled sauces from Italy also have ingredients that we would use if we were making that sauce from scratch while the mass grocer brands require a chemist dictionary to decipher.

    Another thing to consider is what is the distance of the food we are eating from where it’s grown/raised to our table. Fruits and veggies picked closer to ripening taste loads better than those shipped halfway around the world. If I can buy “whole” foods and buy ones grown or raised close to my home, all the better.

  • LAL

    Processed is the same definition. That being said I am not against processed food. I prefer to cook because seriously it’s cheaper. I don’t get how people can justify frozen dinners or premade meals. But I will say that when I didn’t know how to cook say 10+ years ago, I bought those sorts of foods and hamburger helper because it was cheaper than eating out. That got me on the road to cooking and learning how to cook. So perhaps processed foods has it’s place in the cooking curve?

    For example I can make rice pilaf but before I used to buy the box. But I didn’t go out and buy a serving of rice pilaf. Or mashed potatoes. Or frozen pizza. I still have frozen pizza in my freezer. I can make pizza but sometimes I don’t feel like it and rather than spend more eating out I’ll reach for pizza or soup or ramen noodles.

    I think that parents should cook more because going out to eat with kids is exhausting and expensive.

  • cj

    It is troubling that your view on the subject could be considered extreme. I would hope that people think more deeply about what goes in their body. Perhaps the fact that brain function is affected by what we eat would get a bit of attention. Dunno.

    • saverspender @ save. spend. splurge.

      Could be related. I think it’s starting to be a “thing” or a “movement” but to me, it’s been around for ages in some parts of Europe (mostly countrysides). I just think we’ve lost touch of what food really is.

  • elle

    I buy frozen fruits to make smoothies. Gives the drink an extra chill. Less hassle too in cutting fruits, like mangoes, etc.

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