Process It: Make Processed Foods Part of Your Healthy Diet

July 5, 2022

Processed foods get a bad rap—the most common concerns being that they’re full of chemicals or packed with sugar. Processing is nothing more than transforming ingredients, such as vegetables, beans or meat, from their original state into another form—bagged baby carrots and tofu are processed foods, as is frozen pizza. Processing food can do things like improve its flavor, make it more affor­dable, enhance its shelf-life and minimize contamination—all keys to ensuring food safety and variety.

From granola bars and breakfast cereals to frozen waffles, potato chips or your favorite ice cream, processed foods offer a wide range of benefits. Rather than writing them off, consider their potential as nutrient-rich power foods that provide satisfying flavors and enhanced energy to fuel your dancing.

Take a Positive Approach

Labeling unprocessed foods as “good” and processed foods as “bad” can trigger shame and guilt. But a diet composed primarily of unprocessed foods is often unrealistic, especially for busy dancers who may struggle to find the time to shop and cook. Let go of the idea that processed foods are unhealthy, and focus instead on inclusion rather than exclusion. And remember that one meal or snack (or a few!) will never make or break your health or performance; it’s the long-term patterns that matter.   

Embrace the Practicality

Ready to eat and often affordably priced, processed foods save time and money—two huge benefits for dancers. Some processed foods, like frozen veggies, are a convenient way to boost your intake of vital micronutrients and fiber. Adding dried fruit, granola bars and packaged crackers to your dance bag will ensure that you have sources of quick energy for classes and rehearsals. 

See the Big Picture 

It’s easy to get caught up in the numbers, but tracking calories and grams offers an incomplete picture. Nutrition data should never be the only reason behind­ your food choices—overall habits and patterns are better indicators of health, and personal preferences should also play a role in your mealtime decisions. If you tend to follow restrictive food rules, consider working toward a more intuitive approach with the help of a registered dietitian nutritionist. 

Reading Nutrition- Facts Labels

Interpreting nutrition information is key to making healthy choices. Consider these tips for your next trip down the packaged-food aisle:

 1   Peek at the ingredients. Since ingredients are listed in order of abundance, aim for options with whole-food sources listed early on. Examples include dried fruit, oats, whole grains, seeds and nuts.  

 2   Don’t fear ingredients that you cannot pronounce! Even the simplest ingredients can sound like a chemistry exam. For instance, sodium chloride is just another name for salt.

 3   Consider the added sugars. Prioritize those from natural sources, sincesugar-free alternatives can cause stomach upset.  

 4   Don’t use serving sizes as a maximum threshold. These are designed for comparative purposes (example: food X has more of a nutrient than food Y) and are not meant to dictate how much of a food you “should” be eating.

 5   Don’t fear sodium, especially on extra-hot days when electrolyte replenish­ment is a priority (unless you’re at risk for hypertension).