Olive oil, frozen veg, soup: nutritionist-approved processed foods

It may be surprising to hear but it turns out that not all processed foods are bad for you… Nutritionist Susie Burrell reveals the bang for buck processed foods to keep in the Woolies trolley.

In the world of nutrition, we have been told for some time to avoid processed foods as much as possible and instead opt for fresh, natural wholefoods as much as possible. While this is true in theory, it is also important to remember that there is a big difference between processed foods and ultra-processed foods.

Processed foods includes any foods that are altered, even slightly from their natural state. This means that even frozen vegetables or canned soups or vegetables are processed.

Ultra-processed foods on the other hand, are foods that have been altered so significantly from their original form, that they are no longer recognisable. For example, potato chips do not look a whole lot like the potatoes they originated from.

Specifically, it is ultra-processed foods including biscuits, cakes, soft drinks and fried fast foods that are associated with a number of negative health issues including inflammation, weight gain and low mood.

However, foods that are slightly processed to improve flavour, convenience and shelf life can still be extremely nutritious. So if you need quick, easy and healthy food options, here are some of the processed foods you can enjoy guilt-free in 2021.

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Frozen veggies

One of the most common nutrition myths is that frozen veggies are not as nutritious as fresh varieties and as such ‘fresh is always best’. It may surprise you to hear that as a number of key nutrients that we get from veggies (including the B group vitamins, Vitamin C and a number of antioxidants) are heat sensitive; veggies lose their nutrient content relatively quickly once they are harvested.

This means that fresh veggies that have sat in trucks for days during transportation, and then for days if not weeks in holding bays and on supermarket shelves can have lower nutrient levels than frozen varieties that have been snap frozen immediately after harvest. While frozen veggies are technically processed… nutritionally, they are just as good – if not better than fresh (as long as you do not overcook them)!

Tinned tomatoes

Not only are tinned veggies, and tomatoes in particular especially versatile, and can be used to make the flavour base to many dishes including soup, risotto, pasta bakes and marinades.

Tinned cooked tomatoes, as well as tomato paste and tomato sauce, contain especially high levels of the antioxidant, lycopene, which has been shown to have powerful anti-cancer properties and is only released from tomatoes once they are cooked. This means that the little processing required to cook and preserve tinned tomatoes is worth it for the extra health benefits you will find in your tin or jar.

Extra virgin olive oil

One the best things about Australian extra virgin olive oil is that it is cold pressed immediately after harvest, which means it has extremely high levels of antioxidants. This is compared to many imported olive oils which are often blends of different oils resulting in a poorer quality oil nutritionally.

The high antioxidant level in extra virgin olive oil helps to protect the oil from changing chemically when it is heated at high temperatures, which means contrary to popular belief you can cooked with extra virgin olive oil. In addition, from a nutritional perspective, there are no other oils that even come close to the positive nutritional profile that extra virgin olive oil does – which means it is the only oil you need to buy!


Forget the old school packets of soup powder and two minute mixes, there is a growing range of fresh soups packed in tetra packs which are hard to fault when it comes to nutrition, cost and convenience. Soup is one the most nutrient dense, low calorie foods you can find… but when you consider the cost of buying all the ingredients – a batch of soup can cost up to $30 to make! This can seem a bit dear when you are only cooking for one or two, and do not need it in large quantities.

However, a single serve of premade veggie soup, can cost just $3-4 a serve; and with a growing range of options that contain little other than veggies, meats and a little salt, there is nothing wrong with buying your fresh soups rather than making them.

Nut spread

With just two percent of all Aussies getting the daily recommended intake of 30g of nuts each day, incorporating 100 percent nut spreads with your daily toast, sandwich or smoothie order is an easy way to get your daily intake of nuts and all the health benefits they offer. Packed full of good fats, Vitamin E and protein, the newest 100 percent nut spreads contain just nuts and occasionally salt, meaning they are a convenient and healthy way to include nuts into you and the family’s daily diet.

Canned fish

If you were opting for unprocessed fish, you would need to become skilled at skinning and deboning your favourite fish when you could opt for a tinned or frozen variety and still get all the nutrition minus the hard, and messy work. Whether your fish is smoked, tinned or frozen, the key nutrients found in fish including Omega-3 fat, protein and minerals including zinc are relatively stable which means they are not negatively impacted when processed. This means that you can grab relatively cheap tinned fish or even frozen fillets to making getting your two to three serves of fish each week much easier and often much cheaper without losing any of the nutritional benefits.

Tinned beetroot

Beetroot is one of the most nutrient rich foods you can find. Alas, it can be messy and require a certain amount of preparation we often skip it as a regular salad or veg addition of choice. For this reason, keeping some tinned beetroot at home not only means you have a ready to eat version of this superfood, but tinned beetroot will retain much more of its antioxidant and natural folate content, making it is smart way to enjoy it as part of your regular diet.

Susie Burrell is a dietitian and nutritionist and holds a Master’s Degree in Coaching Psychology. Susie is the resident dietitian on Seven Network’s Sunrise and has been a dietitian in Sydney for more than 20 years.