I’ve been thinking about the term “processed food” lately. This is a term which largely has a negative connotation. When we think of “processed foods,” foods such as crisps, cakes, biscuits and pizzas spring to mind. However, some gently processed foods can contribute to healthy outcomes and make it easier for vegans to adhere to their diet. Processed foods play an important role in many people’s diets. This may be due to time, cost, cooking ability or access, health issues or any unique nutritional needs. They can also help certain groups of people such as children or older adults meet their nutritional needs. For example, cheat meats can be a useful addition to the diets of some older adults’ as we require slightly more protein as we get older.
Do I Personally Eat Processed Foods?
I personally enjoy some lightly processed foods almost every day along with whole grains, legumes, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds. The gently processed foods in my diet include organic plant milk, soy yoghurt, tofu, canned beans (in BPA-free cans), frozen vegetables, dried fruits and wholegrain pasta.
The Pros and Cons of Processed Foods
Did you know that canning, cooking, freezing, fermenting and drying are all processing methods? There are usually both positive and negative implications for nutrition as a result of them. Processing tomato sauce extends its shelf life and increases the availability of lycopene. This is a cancer-fighting antioxidant. However, processing tomatoes usually also involves adding extra salt and sugar which is less ideal. Did you know that frozen berries, usually picked and packed in their prime, have a similar nutritional value to their fresh counterparts?
What about Ultra-Processed Foods?
One category we should avoid as much as possible is ultra-processed food (UPFs). These are essentially “food-like substances” that offer no health benefits. This includes fizzy drinks, mayonnaise, crisps, cupcakes, instant noodles and packaged biscuits, which may also contain trans fats.