The most wholesome diet you can imagine would feature foods prepared from scratch without the addition of large amounts of salt, sugar, and fat. But most of us don't have the time - or desire - to do this every day, and these foods may not be available to your region year round.

Consider food processing follows a spectrum, ranging from minimally processed to heavily processed. For instance, canned or frozen fruits and vegetables are minimally processed foods, while candy and frosted donuts are heavily processed.

Food companies preserve fresh fruits and vegetables by drying, canning, or freezing so that we can enjoy them year round, thus contributing important nutrients to our diets. Food companies also use traditional processing techniques to create whole grain flour out of grains, and to turn milk into yogurt or cottage cheese.

Processing techniques, such as pasteurizing milk, also helps keep your food supply safe. You should include such nutrient-rich, minimally processed foods in your diet; just read labels to ensure that they are low in added ingredients, such as salt and sugar.

There are times when it's convenient to reach for moderately processed foods such as frozen dinners or canned soups. How can you make the best choice? The only way you can really tell is to flip over the package and read the ingredients list.

Is the product made from real food ingredients found in nature, such as grains, legumes and vegetables? Or are there multi-syllabic ingredients, such as sodium benzoate or food dyes that you might never find in your cupboards? Let the ingredients list be your guide to choosing wholesome prepared foods.