Strategies for Managing Processed Foods in Your Eating Pattern

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Now that you're familiar with the health impact of various processed foods, encourage your clients to plan meals and snacks to include more unprocessed or minimally processed foods. That way they can decrease the amount of ultra-processed foods in their eating patterns.

Here are some tips:

  • Fill your grocery cart with fresh produce, or fruit and vegetables that are canned or frozen without anything added. For example, either buy fresh corn on the cob or frozen corn where the ingredient label states simply:  corn. 
  • Read the list of ingredients on packaged foods. The ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, which means that whatever is listed first is present in the largest weight. Choose foods where the first 3 ingredients are whole foods.
  • Prepare meals from scratch as much as possible.
  • If you want a crunchy, salty snack choose popcorn (avoid microwave popcorn and instead pop it yourself on the stove) and sprinkle lightly with salt.
  • If you want something sweet, choose a piece of fresh fruit. If you must have a cookie or sweet dessert, make it yourself!
  • Instead of sweetened, flavored yogurt choose plain yogurt and top it with berries and a sprinkle of cinnamon or vanilla.
  • Choose 100% whole grain bread, crackers, cereal and grains.
  • Instead of sweetened breakfast cereal, choose plain oatmeal and top with fresh or dried fruit (choose dried fruit without added sugar).
  • Make your own trail mix from nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.
  • Instead of lunch meat for a sandwich, make your own tuna or egg salad. You can also try natural peanut butter.
  • Instead of vegetarian chicken patties, hot dogs, or pre-prepared meals use dried beans and peas like lentils, chickpeas, split peas or kidney beans; or marinate tofu yourself.
  • Drink plain water or flavor water with slices of fruit or vegetables; or use a juicer at home so that you avoid sweetened beverages.

By Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDCES, CPT, CHWC


  1. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Processed Foods and Health.  accessed 9-20-22
  2. Food, Nutrition & Fitness I: The Digestion Journey Begins with Food Choices 4 of 4 Compiled in 2018 by EduChange with guidance from NUPENS, Sao Paulo.
  3. Monteiro, C.A., Cannon, G., Lawrence, M., Costa Louzada, M.L. and Pereira Machado, P. 2019. Ultra-processed foods, diet quality, and health using the NOVA classification system. Rome, FAO.  
  4. Steele EM, Baraldi LG, da Costa Louzada ML, Moubarac JC, Mozaffarian D, Monteiro CA. Ultra-processed foods and added sugars in the US diet: evidence from a nationally representative cross-sectional study. BMJ open. 2016 Jan 1;6(3):e009892.
  5. Chen, X., Zhang, Z., Yang, H. et al. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and health outcomes: a systematic review of epidemiological studies. Nutr J 19, 86 (2020). 
  6. Pagliai G, Dinu M, Madarena MP, Bonaccio M, Iacoviello L, Sofi F. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and health status: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr. 2021 Feb 14;125(3):308-318. doi: 10.1017/S0007114520002688. Epub 2020 Aug 14. PMID: 32792031; PMCID: PMC7844609.
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