WE are often advised to avoid or limit intake of processed foods to maintain good health. But is this possible when almost all foods readily available are processed? What else to eat, you may ask.
While some processed foods should be consumed with caution, many actually have a place in a balanced diet. We’ll help you sort the list of nutritious processed foods from the not-so-nutritious processed foods.
Processed foods includes food that has been cooked, canned, frozen, packaged or changed in nutritional composition with fortifying, preserving or preparing in different ways.
When a food was cooked, it was processed – salt, sugar, oil, even MSG were added to make it tasty. However, how the food was processed (from minimally to heavily processed) is now for you to determine.
Processed food can be beneficial to your diet. When milk and juices were fortified with calcium and vitamin D, or breakfast cereals have added fiber, they were all processed to contain more nutrients.
Lightly processed foods include pre-cut apple slices, hard-boiled eggs, canned tuna and frozen vegetables. These are nutritious choices and can make healthy eating more convenient for busy people.
Minimally processed foods — such as bagged spinach, cut vegetables and roasted nuts — often are simply preprepped for convenience.
Foods processed at their peak to lock in nutritional quality and freshness include canned tomatoes, frozen fruit and vegetables, and canned tuna are also considered minimally processed foods. Foods with ingredients added for flavor and texture (sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives) include jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt and cake mixes.
But ready-to-eat foods such as crackers, granola and deli meat are more heavily processed. The category also includes frozen pizza and microwaveable dinners, potato chips and crackers, or food that is not naturally occurring, such as sodas, donuts, cookies and candy.
Eating processed food in moderation is fine, but consumers should be on the lookout for these ingredients: palm oil, shortening, white flour high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Benzoate, Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), artificial colors and MSG.
* Palm oil. When a regular fat like corn, soybean, or palm oil is blasted with hydrogen and turned into a solid, it becomes a trans fat. These help packaged foods stay “fresh,” meaning that the food can sit on the supermarket shelf for years without ever getting stale or rotting. Eating junk food with trans fats raises your “bad” LDL cholesterol and triglycerides and lowers your “good” HDL. These fats also increase your risk of blood clots and heart attack. Avoid palm oil and other trans fats like the plague, and kiss fried foods goodbye too.
* Shortening. Also known as partially hydrogenated oil, this is also under the classification of trans fats. In addition to clogging your arteries and causing obesity, they also increase your risk of metabolic syndrome. Choose healthier monounsaturated fats, such as olive, peanut and canola oils and foods that contain unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids instead.
* Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Benzoate. These preservatives are sometimes added to soda to prevent mold from growing, but benzene is a known carcinogen that is also linked with serious thyroid damage. Dangerous levels of benzene can build up when plastic bottles of soda are exposed to heat or when the preservatives are combined with ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
* Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA). BHA is another potentially cancer-causing preservative, but it has been deemed safe by the Food and Drug Administration. Its job is to help prevent spoilage and food poisoning, but it’s a major endocrine disruptor and can seriously mess with your hormones.
* Artificial colors. The artificial colors blue 1 and 2, green 3, red 3, and yellow 6 have been linked to thyroid, adrenal, bladder, kidney, and brain cancers. Always seek out foods with the fewest artificial chemicals, especially when shopping for your kids. Look for color-free medications and natural food products that don’t contain artificial colors like these.