First off, let’s nail down what defines processed food. Food that’s been processed has been nutritionally altered in some way, whether through cooking, canning, freezing, packaging or other processes. This is done for a number of reasons, whether it’s to preserve the food and give it a longer shelf life, or to make it taste better. Technically, every time we cook up a meal, we’re processing the food we use. Some typical processed foods are potato chips, cereal, milk (because it has been pasteurized), and bread. None of these foods are raw products. Bread wasn’t picked from a bread tree, it was manufactured. There are different levels of processed food, and not all of them are bad for you.
Types of Processed Food
The next level up are products made with minimally processed ingredients. For instance, pasta that is made with whole grains would be in this category. The grains are a raw food ingredient that was processed into pasta. Whole grains are a very healthy, wholesome ingredient that creates a healthy, yet processed, food product. Other examples are olive oils, peanut oil, or sesame oil. These are products made from natural, whole ingredients through some form of processing.
Health Thoroughfare. “Ultra Processed Foods Make Us Addicted”. 2018. jpeg file.
The University of Illinois even conducted a study that found that canned produce can have just as much dietary fiber and vitamins as fresh produce. It even found that in some cases, it can actually have more. One example of this is pumpkin. Canned pumpkin contains 540% of the recommended daily dose of vitamin A, but fresh pumpkin only has 26%. Canned pumpkin also has about a fifth of the iron you need in a day. Canned produce also tends to be more affordable. Not everyone can afford to eat fresh fruits and vegetables every day, and certain canned produce can create more accessibility to healthy food. Just check the ingredient list for artificial additives!
Additives are exactly what they sound like: a substance that is added to a food for a number of reasons. This form of food processing can be the trickiest to navigate, since there are so many different kinds of food additives out there. Additives can be used in processed foods to preserve freshness, flavor, appearance, or texture. They can be anything from natural spices like cinnamon to artificial flavor enhancers. These are chemicals that amplify the food’s already existing flavors without adding a new flavor.
Ho, Lucy. 2021. jpeg file.
During the freezing process, fresh vegetables can lose some color, flavor, or nutrients. This is because of enzymes, a chemical compound in fruits and veggies, that break them down over time. To stop enzymes from doing this in vegetables, they are often blanched before being frozen. This means that the veggies are briefly boiled or steamed, then quickly cooled down in ice water to stop the cooking process. This process deactivates the enzymes, keeping the veggies from breaking down, and also saves you a step in the cooking process.
Interestingly, fermentation can also make some dairy products, like yogurt and kefir, safe for those who are lactose intolerant. It does this by breaking down the lactose in the dairy product and turning it into compounds like glucose and galactose, which are easier to digest.
- Know the different types of processing
- How they’re used
- Stick to whole or minimally processed foods
- Watch that ingredient list!