by Finessa Rassel, ATC

Nutrition plays a key role in recovery. Food is fuel for your body. But, the type of food you choose to fuel your body with makes a huge difference in its healing process. You might have heard the terms: “processed” and “ultra-processed” in reference to the food you eat, but what do these actually mean and why should we care? Let’s debrief.

Processed vs Ultra-Processed Foods

Processed foods are foods changed from their natural state. This includes the processes of heating; freezing; drying; or adding sugars, salts, or even vitamins and minerals. Not all processed foods are bad for you!

– However, Ultra-Processed Foods (UPFs) are foods that have been heavily altered physically, chemically, and/or biologically. These foods are linked to obesity, heart disease, and cancer.

– Unfortunately, over ½ of the average American diet consists of UPFs. Common examples of UPFs include: chips, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, soda, candy, etc.

How To Recognize UPFs

It’s important to know what you are putting into your body, and the best way to do that is to know what to look for on a food label/ingredient list. Below are some tips and tricks to identify UPFs:

– Any food listing more than 5 ingredients is likely to be ultra-processed.

– If there are ingredients listed you don’t recognize, odds are they are preservatives, colorings, or chemicals – AKA ultra-processed.

– Foods with a high fat, sugar, and salt content are likely ultra-processed.

– Foods promoting a really long shelf-life most likely have added preservatives, and are most likely: ultra-processed.

The Good News

Research shows changes in dietary patterns decreases risk of disease! Try to limit and substitute UPFs with foods higher in nutritional value, such as fruits and vegetables!

Tip #1: Try including more dark green leafy vegetables and brightly colored fruits into your diet.

Tip #2: Did you know frozen fruits are a great alternative if fresh fruits are not feasible? They are more cost-effective, longer lasting, and often retain the most nutrients! Just avoid added sugars!

Tip #3: Skip the drive-through! Cooking at home sets you up for success when reducing the amount of ultra-processed foods you consume. When you cook the meal, you can control the ingredients. Check out this previous topic for meal ideas!


Finessa Rassel, ATC, LAT ||  Finessa is a Certified Athletic Trainer in Reno, NV. She grew up in Missouri and attended college at Truman State University. She obtained her Master’s in Athletic Training and is pursuing further education in dietetics. She likes to spend her free time playing tennis, traveling, and hanging out with her friends.

Be sure to check out our other blogs for further injury prevention education and tips from Work Right NW!