When we think of “processed food” we are usually referring to HIGHLY processed products that are either entirely or mostly made from refined ingredients and artificial substances using chemical transformation. In other words… foods that are cheap, pre-packaged, and ready-to-consume. AKA that bag of chips, or the “multi-grain” bread – that appears to be good for you…
But did you know… the term “processed food” encompasses much, much more?
Our dietary habits have strongly evolved, from regular freshly prepared meals to a constant snacking of industrial ready-to-consume products…. so what??
What is processed food?
When food is processed… it is TRANSFORMED. This can be physical (slicing, freezing, blending) OR chemical. Food processing is often beneficial to our health, and is an important part of food and nutrition safety.
So when is food processing BAD? The answer to this involves being an informed grocery shopper… it means checking out food labels before adding items to your shopping cart.
At first, this can take some time, but with practice ANYONE can learn to make healthier choices in the grocery store. And… soon, you will easily and quickly recognize brands and clean, healthy foods you can trust to fuel you and your family. Here’s a guide to get you started:
What should you look for in a label?
- Look for the shortest list possible, with ingredients you recognize & understand. If you don’t know what something on the ingredient label is…Don’t get it, or quickly make a note of it and google it later to become better informed.
- Pay attention to the first few items listed. The first few items listed contribute most to the product you’re considering purchasing. Ex. If the first ingredient is high fructose corn syrup… BAD.
- As often as possible – buy local products. When food has to travel a long distance to make it to your plate – chances are it’s more highly processed and less nutrient and fiber rich.
Processed FOOD FACTS
Did you know??
- More than three-fourths of our energy comes from moderately to highly processed food and beverages.
- Pre-packaged, ready-to-consume processed foods contribute to 57% of our daily energy intake, 52% of our daily saturated fat intake, 75% of our added sugar intake, and 57% of our daily salt intake . In other words.. ready-to-eat foods have higher saturated fat, sugar, and sodium contents than less-processed foods and foods that require preparation and cooking .
- Processed products are low in fiber, vitamins and minerals… resulting in energy-rich and nutrient-poor foods .
- Ultra-processed foods have became dominant in high-income countries and are becoming more dominant in middle-income countries .
Home Processing Tip: Should you be blending or juicing?
Did you know??
When you use a juicer.. many of the naturally occurring produce fibers and nutrients are removed from your beverage? Blending also alters the original composition of your produce… BUT – fibers and vitamins are blended into your beverage – as opposed to being removed.
So… if this were a contest of “which option provides you with more nutritional value”… your blender is the winner. Sorry juicer!
 C. M. Weaver, J. Dwyer, V. L. Fulgoni, J. C. King, G. A. Leveille, R. S. MacDonald, J. Ordovas, and D. Schnakenberg, “Processed foods: contributions to nutrition,” The American journal of clinical nutrition, vol. 99, no. 6, pp. 1525–42, Jun. 2014. H. A. Eicher-Miller, V. L. Fulgoni, and D. R. Keast, “Contributions of processed foods to dietary intake in the US from 2003-2008: a report of the Food and Nutrition Science Solutions Joint Task Force of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Society for Nutrition, Institute of Food Technologists,” The Journal of nutrition, vol. 142, no. 11, p. 2065S–2072S, Nov. 2012.  J. M. Poti, M. A. Mendez, S. W. Ng, and B. M. Popkin, “Is the degree of food processing and convenience linked with the nutritional quality of foods purchased by US households?,” The American journal of clinical nutrition, vol. 101, no. 6, pp. 1251–62, Jun. 2015.  C. A. Monteiro, J.-C. Moubarac, G. Cannon, S. W. Ng, and B. Popkin, “Ultra-processed products are becoming dominant in the global food system,” Obesity Reviews, vol. 14, pp. 21–28, Nov. 2013.