Canada's food guide

Limit highly processed foods

Limit highly processed foods

Preparing foods with healthy ingredients and choosing healthier menu options are ways to limit highly processed foods.

On this page

Benefits of limiting highly processed foods

You should limit highly processed foods and drinks because they are not a part of a healthy eating pattern.

Highly processed foods are processed or prepared foods and drinks that add excess sodium, sugars or saturated fat to the diets of Canadians.

Highly processed foods can include:

  • sugary drinks
  • chocolate and candies
  • ice cream and frozen desserts
  • fast foods like French fries and burgers
  • frozen entrées like pasta dishes and pizzas
  • bakery products like muffins, buns and cakes
  • processed meats like sausages and deli meats

Our food environment is changing. Highly processed foods are readily available and people are eating more of them. Eating highly processed foods increases your intake of sodium, sugars or saturated fat. Eating too much sodium, sugars or saturated fat can increase your risk of chronic disease.

Sodium

A higher sodium intake can lead to higher blood pressure, which may lead to heart disease. Sodium is often added to foods to preserve them and for taste. Highly processed foods are the main source of sodium for Canadians.

Sugars

Eating and drinking a lot of foods and drinks with added sugars has been linked to an increased risk of:

  • obesity
  • type 2 diabetes

Having too many sugary drinks has been linked to an increased risk of:

  • cavities in children

Saturated fat

Replacing foods that have mostly saturated fat with foods that have healthy fats can help lower the risk of heart disease.

Processed meats

Processed meats can be high in both sodium and saturated fat. Eating too much has been linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer (can also be called colon cancer or rectal cancer).

How to limit highly processed foods

If you eat highly processed foods, try to:

  • eat them less often
  • eat them in small amounts
  • replace them with healthier options

You can:

  • replace sugary drinks with water
  • try not to keep highly processed foods at home
  • choose healthier menu options when eating out
  • choose less processed foods, such as:
    • leftover baked chicken instead of deli meats
    • steel-cut oats instead of sweetened instant oats
  • make homemade versions of your favourite highly processed foods:
    • try a healthy muffin recipe to replace store-bought muffins
    • make your own frozen dinners by choosing a healthy recipe and freezing it in meal-sized portions
  • stock your kitchen with healthy snacks. Try quick and easy options like:
    • nuts
    • fruit
    • carrots
    • hard-boiled eggs
  • plan your meals and snacks in advance to include:
    • vegetables and fruit
    • whole grain foods
    • protein foods
  • limit the use of highly processed spreads and dressings in your meals and snacks
  • use the food label when grocery shopping to make informed choices

Some processed foods can be part of a healthy eating pattern

Not all processed foods have added sodium, sugars or saturated fat. Some types of processing, like pasteurization, help create a safe and convenient food supply. Other types of processing can be used to help preserve food and retain nutrients. These techniques include:

  • drying
  • canning
  • freezing

Visit the Food guide for life for tips to:

  • Choose a healthy drink
  • Make easy snacks
  • Make healthy choices when eating out
Make a healthy choice

What you eat on a regular basis matters for your health.

  • Choose foods that have little to no added sodium, sugars or saturated fat.
  • Compare the nutrition facts table on foods to choose products that are lower in sodium, sugars or saturated fat.

Further reading

Date modified: 2019-01-29