are they as bad as the health industry say they are?
First, let’s define what a processed food is. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), defines processed food as any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, drying, dehydrating, mixing, packaging or other procedures that alter the food from its natural state. This may include the addition of other ingredients to the food, such as preservatives, flavors, nutrients and other food additives or substances approved for use in food products, such as salt, sugars and fats. Basically, when we prepare and cook a food we are in fact processing that food.
However, it is important to note that according to the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, processed foods range on a scale. From minimally processed to mostly processed:
#1 Minimally processed foods —pre-prepped food for convenience. Bagged lettuce, cut and packaged veggies and fruits, roasted nuts.
#2 Foods processed at their peak to lock in nutritional quality and freshness include canned tomatoes, frozen fruit and vegetables, canned- tuna, salmon, chicken, and flash frozen meats.
#3 Foods with ingredients added for flavor and texture (sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives) include canned or jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt and cake mixes.
#4 Ready-to-eat foods — crackers, chips and deli meat — are more heavily processed.
#5 The most heavily processed foods often are frozen or pre-made meals, including frozen pizza and microwaveable dinners. (info provided by Mayo-Clinic website)
Okay, now that we have a better understanding of processed foods let’s talk about whether or not these foods are as harmful as the claims of the fitness industry.
Since 1-2 on the processed food scale is basically food that has been prepared/cut or bagged for convenience or to preserve freshness, with nothing added. I would consider these foods to be very safe to consume on a daily basis.
No. 3 is where it tends to get iffy and it just goes downhill from there. Here’s why: Preservatives consists of chemicals, chemicals that are foreign to the body. Our bodies don’t always know how to process these foreign chemicals. In fact, some preservatives, the body will filter as it would actual poison. Having said all of that, I think it is wise to say that foods ranked #3 down on the processed food scale are not so good for the body and could actually be harmful to the body. So, I’m going to address the processed foods that would fall in the #3-5 scale from here on out.
Here are some things about highly processed foods that you need to know:
- Science has proven in many studies that these types of processed foods are a contributing factor to obesity and illness. High blood pressure/cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes even cancer.
- Science has proven that these types of processed foods negatively impact the metabolism.
- Most (not all) processed foods are higher in sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup. Both sugar and HFCS have many negative effects on the body. Inflammation being just one of them.
- These processed foods have been scientifically engineered for overconsumption. Why? So you will eat more and in turn purchase more. A fatter America leads to a fatter wallet for the junk food industry.
- They are low in nutrition- and what is food for? NUTRITION.
- Highly processed foods have been linked to addiction. Studies have shown a chemical reaction in the brain when consuming highly processed foods- those that are high in carbohydrates.
I do not think it is a reasonable expectation for anyone who wants to live a healthy lifestyle to avoid any and all processed foods. I think it is important to develop the mindset that there is a time and a place for all food- clean and processed. Having this mindset will help deter any negative relationship with food. The first thing we have to do is to know the facts and accept them. Then we can develop a plan to have balance.23
Here are some tips or guideline I recommend:
- Get the majority of your nutrition from clean foods (85-95%).
- Schedule your favorite “unclean” foods into your diet.
- Stick to said schedule.
- Be sure to track all food, including processed foods, into your daily caloric intake.
- If you’re going to have things like “Sugar Free” drinks and foods (crystal light, diet soda, sugar free syrup, sugar free jelly, etc.) have them in moderation. Maybe 1-2 servings per day.
Remember, we tend to crave what we eat. The more processed foods we consume, the more likely our bodies are going to crave them.
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