"I actually do not eat processed foods." You hear it fly out of your mouth during a cocktail party conversation, and just as you realize, you have little idea of what that means. Even if you did not say it out loud, you have heard the phrase and in an effort to become "healthier" you are trying to save processed foods. But what exactly does the term mean and are processed foods as bad as they were billed? Should you just avoid them altogether, and if so, how? Answering the first of these questions could help us find out the rest.
What are processed foods?
"Processed food" implies a huge umbrella and includes all foods that have been altered in any way before being sold or consumed. The International Food Information Council qualifies food processing as "any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it is available for our consumption … as simple as freezing or drying food to preserve nutrients and freshness, or as complex as formulating a frozen food. " Meal with the right balance of nutrients and ingredients.
Navigation can be complicated as there are a thousand and one ways to modify food, from drastic to basic, including ancient techniques – such as drying and fermenting – to more advanced, chemical and biological modifications with new ones constantly evolving Foods are modified for a variety of reasons, from improving taste and appearance to extending shelf life, but also for unexpected reasons that you may not associate with processing – those that are actually quite good for you
Note : For the purposes of this article, we will not address genetically modified foods or "GMOs" that have been altered at the molecular level prior to growth and raise a separate set of questions and concerns.
The few completely unprocessed foods – those you have relied on to eat as much of people as possible – are a relatively small list of fruits and vegetables, meat, nuts, seeds, and a few other foods that are They are essentially consumed as they were when they left the earth, the tree, the vine, the pod, the shell, the sea or the slaughterhouse. A better question that you should think about (and that you should ask yourself) as you stroll through the aisles of the supermarket is not "Is it processed?". but "how is it processed?" and also "how is it processed?" Speaking of in general : The less processed, the better, but with a few important limitations.
How is a food processed?
Some minimally processed foods such as sacked vegetables, fresh fruit, rice and cereal, leafy lettuce, seeds, nuts and roasted coffee beans are processed technically, but in a harmless way such as simple cooking, grind or simply prepare for the needs of the store Home in front. These are processed to your advantage – for safety reasons, cleaned, cooked or sliced.
More heavily processed foods such as crackers in boxes or frozen fruits, vegetables and legumes may contain some additional preservatives, but the effect is often minimal most basic packaging and freezing processes are effective and relatively non-invasive , Preserves are not that easy to navigate as they generally contain more ingredients. For example, peach preserves often sit in a corn syrup juice, while many other vegetable and soup cans are full of nitrates and preservatives. There is also the presence of BPA, an industrial chemical found in the metal of some cans and associated with serious health problems. Remember that all canned and frozen foods suffer a certain nutrient loss. So fresh is always better if it is possible.
The worst (and most) processed foods are often prepared via a Trojan horse and include most ready-to-eat, frozen or prepackaged foods, mixes, soups and other meals. The more complicated the food, the more interventions had to be made to keep it edible and tasty. This means most frozen pizzas and microwaveable TV dinners as well as complex pre-packaged desserts with stuffing and icing like twinkies and pop-tarts.
Most store-bought hams, hot dogs and packaged meats are also highly processed and loaded with nitrates to stop the growth of bacteria – so much so that they are considered carcinogenic by some standards. This classification does not apply across the board, and some recent food brands, such as Amy's Kitchen, have found ways to manufacture and distribute convenience foods and frozen foods without the use of chemical preservatives. The proof is always in the box, so read, read and read something else.
Another thing to watch out for is "low-fat" sugar-free and other "dietary" foods, which are often processed faster than others and often in unhealthy ways This means that fat (taste) has been removed from the original product and is likely to be either chemically modified or contains a range of flavoring to counterbalance the loss of flavor, which usually means sugar, which is probably worse for you On the other hand, many low-sugar or low-carbohydrate foods are fortified with alternative chemical sweeteners ranging from highly chemical (aspartame and saccharine) to more natural (stevia and monk) fruits.
Forever processed  While the term "processed foods" undoubtedly has a negative meaning g, many foods are processed to improve their health benefits and their overall nutritional value or to strengthen them. For example, certain bread products and granolas are fortified with fiber or riboflavin. Milk, juices, drinks and yoghurt often get a boost in calcium or vitamins, which have different health benefits.
Pasteurization is another common form of processing, especially for juice, milk and milk by-products, such as cheese and yogurt. It uses heat to eliminate potentially harmful pathogens and extend shelf life. Unlike other preservative methods, pasteurization is not based on heavy additives and is another example of food processing that should not affect the average person.
In general, the term "processed foods" should not be something that scares or prevents you from buying or eating. However, if you suspect or discover that something has been heavily processed for any reason, it should do so. It would be wise to consider both the means and the process by which it was changed before purchase , As with almost everything else, knowledge is power when it comes to eating.
On our sister site, Chowhound, you can find healthier alternatives to ultra-processed foods. You will also learn how to read and understand a nutritional label.