If you’ve read any nutritional advice lately, you’ve probably encountered one hard-and-fast rule: Avoid processed foods.
But what does “processed” mean?
On one level, anything humans do to food — slicing fruit, cooking beans, fermenting cabbage into sauerkraut — constitutes processing. It’s obviously silly to say that an apple eaten whole is healthy, while the same apple sliced isn’t.
And even if you can call the ingredients “processed,” there’s nothing unhealthy about a good, crusty sourdough bread made with whole wheat flour or cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. Why should a diet forbid them?
Another school of thought says that if cooking and chopping are benign and even healthful, then any other form of processing is good, too. But what rational person would say that a roasted chicken is nutritionally equivalent to a Chicken McNugget?
Here’s what you really need to avoid: ultra-processed fare. Ultra-processed foods are made with ingredients not normally found in a household kitchen, such as artificial flavors, colors, and emulsifiers.