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5 Processed Foods You Should Never Eat (Plus Their Healthy Alternatives!)

I’ll be the first to admit: it’s hard to get away from processed foods! Grocery stores, restaurants, schools - no matter where you go, it is easy to find something processed. 

I encourage you to pick up fresh, whole foods as often as possible. However, I also recognize that this can be extremely hard when you have been craving a bag of chips all week long. 

Before you head to the store to pick up groceries for this coming week, remember these 5 processed foods you should never eat (and check out their healthy alternatives below!):

Refined sugar


Refined sugar will always come in at my number one “food” to avoid. Now, let’s not confuse this with carbohydrates. There are various forms of sugar found in carbohydrates - some good, some not so good. However here, I’m referring to the pure white, brown, golden, etc. sugar that we see in most conventional baking. 

These sugars are extremely inflammatory within our bodies, and while the temporary sugar rush can feel energizing, it usually leaves us lethargic, can trigger joint inflammation, weight gain, and many other more serious chronic issues. 

Luckily there are a variety of other forms of sweetener that you can use in your baking, or even your morning coffee, to kill your sweet tooth. This includes: 

  • Maple syrup
  • Fruits like apples or bananas
  • Coconut sugar
  • Dates or date sugar
  • No carb options like Stevia or Monk Fruit Sweetener 

Canola oil

While canola oil had been deemed “safe” for years because of it’s low saturated fat content, recent research has shown its inflammatory effects on the body. Canola oil is high in Omega-6 fatty acids, which can have a more inflammatory effect on the body when they are out of balance with Omega-3s. Due to canola oil’s widespread use, it usually means that most of us have this imbalance already.  

Some hidden sources of canola oil include: 

  • Mayonnaise
  • Deep fried foods
  • Many fried foods at restaurants
  • Store-bought hummus
  • Most potato chips
  • Many oil-based salad dressings
  • Margarine 

Have control when you can! Rather than cook with canola oil at home or use it in salad dressings or baking, use: 

  • Avocado oil for frying or baking
  • Olive oil for salad dressings
  • Ghee in place of margarine
  • Coconut oil for stove-top cooking or on popcorn

Microwave meals

Microwave meals tend to be high in a few ingredients that are on my “avoid” list - including the two listed above! 

Depending on the meal - even those listed as “healthy” or “low-in-fat”, will usually be high in sugar, and other ingredients that you can’t even pronounce. And those that also have “meat” in them, tend to have even more preservatives. 

My resolution for this? Make food ahead and freeze it yourself! Things that are great frozen:

  • Soups 
  • Chili
  • Pasta sauces
  • Beans and legumes

Need some more inspiration to keep your fridge stocked? Check out these meal prep tips!

Granola bars

TBH, most store-bought granola bars are just a candy bar in a different wrapper. Unfortunately, if you look at the ingredients, you’ll see rice syrup, cane sugar, or something ending in -ose listed. All of these are different names for sugar. And, as you’ve gotten this far, I suspect you already read about why refined sugar is my number one food to avoid.  

A few healthy alternatives: 

  • Fruit! Fruit is the perfect take-anywhere snack, and many even have their own wrappers like a banana or an orange. 
  • A handful of nuts
  • No-bake energy balls

Processed meats


Sorry keto-fans, bacon should not be a staple in your diet. Processed meats include ham, bacon, jerky, cold cuts, hot dogs, and sausages. 

Processed meat contains nitrates. This is not to be confused with nitrate, which is naturally found in many fruits and vegetables and shows many health benefits. Nitrites in processed meats turn into harmful compounds that can lead to chronic diseases including hypertension, cancer and heart disease. 

Rather than reach for processed meats, go fresh! 

  • Cook a whole chicken or roast beef to have extra on hand during the week 
  • Ground meat only takes a few minutes to cook up!
  • Try canned fish for a quick lunch
  • Use beans!

When you head out grocery shopping, or to your favourite restaurant, remember these 5 processed foods you should never eat!

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