You’ve heard the eating advice from doctors and dietitians—“eat less-processed foods”— more times than you can count. Research has linked diets high in these packaged foods with increased risks of heart disease, colorectal cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, and other conditions. And people who eat a diet full of processed foods tend to take in more calories—about 500 more per day, according to a 2019 study in the journal Cell Metabolism—than people who eat more whole foods, those that are as close to their natural form as possible.

Does that mean you need to eat only raw fruits and vegetables and make your own bread? No. The truth is that practically all foods are processed, even unsalted peanut butter, pre-cut butternut squash, and cheddar cheese. “It’s the extent of the processing we must focus on,” says Fang Fang Zhang, MD, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston. Some processed foods can be part of a healthy diet and actually make healthy eating easier.

. . .

There’s no precise recommendation for how much ultra-processed food you can have in a healthy diet. But considering that U.S. adults get more than half of their daily calories from them alone, chances are most of us could stand to focus on scaling back. Improving the quality of your diet has proven benefits at any age.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to eliminate all ultra-processed foods. Rather, minimize your intake and increase the amount of unprocessed and minimally processed foods you eat.

. . .

“Realize that highly processed foods are often engineered to entice you and make you want to eat more and more,” says Ashley Gearhardt, PhD, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. For some people, the desire for them can be taken to the extreme. In a 2023 report by Gearhardt and her colleagues, 13 percent of people ages 50 to 80 showed signs of addiction to highly processed foods. But becoming conscious of the fact that your taste buds are being manipulated can be a powerful tool in encouraging you to make healthier choices. Reminding yourself that a bag of chips is unlikely to satisfy before you sit down with one may make you decide to opt for something else instead, say, veggies and guacamole.

Read the complete article in Consumer Reports