We’re all always being encouraged to be more “healthy” by bloggers, food channels, and that friend who’s a fitness freak. While health has become synonymous with clean eating, salads, and exercise, processed food has become synonymous with salt, preservatives, and all things harmful. But are all processed foods bad for you?
Processed food refers to any food that has been altered from its raw state. This includes its nutritional composition.1 Methods used for this include canning, freezing, dehydration, refrigeration and aseptic processing. In essence, each time we cook something, we’re processing it.
The Four Types Of Processed Food Categories
To understand processed food and what could and shouldn’t be eaten, we can classify processed food into four broad categories.
- Minimally Processed: These are foods that are minimally processed, if at all, for convenience and to preserve freshness. An example of these is bagged spinach.
- Basic Processed: These include foods that have been preserved at their peak so their nutritional benefits are intact. An example of these is canned tomatoes.
- Moderately Processed: These include foods that have ingredients added to them to enhance their flavor. An example of these is bottled pasta sauce.
- Highly Processed: These are foods that have undergone a huge change from their original state. An example of these is breakfast granola.
A study conducted in America indicates that a major chunk-60 percent- of food purchases in the country consist of highly processed food.2 When it comes to processed food and eating clean, the focus has to be on incorporating food that falls under the minimally processed–moderately processed categories.
Here are 5 processed foods to include in your diet to do just that.
Milk is one of the few foods that increase in their nutritional quality after being processed. When milk is pasteurized, harmful bacteria that cause illnesses like typhoid fever, tuberculosis and other food-borne diseases are killed. Raw milk is, in fact, linked to vomiting, diarrhea, fever, body ache, and abdominal pain.3 Cow’s milk and plant based milk is often fortified to add vitamins and minerals that might be lost during the heating process. These include calcium, B12, protein, and vitamin A. Research shows that a major part of our nutrient intake comes from fortified sources.4
2. Frozen Fruits And Vegetables
Frozen fruits and vegetables fall under the “minimally processed” and “basic processed categories.” They are frozen when they are ripe, in season and in their best state. The process of freezing helps keep the food safe from food-borne illnesses and spoilage. It also helps keep their nutrients intact.5 You can also find options where they are chopped up and zip locked so they’re convenient and economical as well. The catch with these is to find options that don’t have added sugar or salt to them.
3. Nut Butters
Nut butters are all the rage right now. From being included in desserts and smoothie bowls to being spread over bread and apples—there really is no limit to how you can eat nut butters. While peanut butter was the only popular nut butter at one point, today options range from almond, walnut, and cashew to hazelnut and coconut. Nut butters fall somewhere between “minimally processed” and “moderately processed”. Nut butters contain phytochemicals that protect against colon, breast, and prostate cancer. They are also high in protein and healthy fats.6 The catch with nut butters is to always look for the minimally processed kinds, with the maximum percentage of nuts in them. Some have additives you could do without as well.
Canned food falls in the “basic processed” to “moderately processed” categories and are economical as well as convenient to store and use. While most canned food, including canned beans are high on sodium, canned sea food, particularly salmon has shown to have more nutritional benefits when compared to the fresh kind. Since salmon is preserved in its own oil when being canned, it offers more omega-3 fats. The added bones have further nutritional benefits.7 Consuming nutrient dense canned food should be a priority. Always look for low-sodium options when you shop for canned food.
Greek yogurt falls in the “basic processed” to “highly processed” categories of processed food depending on what is added to it. The process used to set Greek yogurt is different from regular yogurt and the former has a higher protein, lower sodium, and carbohydrate content than the latter. Bacteria like Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei and Bifidus are added to Greek yogurt. Regular consumption of it is linked to a healthy digestive and immune system. Watch out for options that contain high sugar and added flavors.
You could also incorporate hummus, herbs, pasta, bread, and other processed foods in your diet. When had in moderation, they add nutrition to your diet. They are also convenient and economical.
|↑1, ↑2||Poti, Jennifer M., Michelle A. Mendez, Shu Wen Ng, and Barry 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 (2015): ajcn100925.|
|↑3||US Food and Drug Administration. “The dangers of raw milk: unpasteurized milk can pose a serious health risk.” Retrieved June 6 (2011).|
|↑4||Dwyer, Johanna T., Victor L. Fulgoni, Roger A. Clemens, David B. Schmidt, and Marjorie R. Freedman. “Is “processed” a four-letter word? The role of processed foods in achieving dietary guidelines and nutrient recommendations.” Advances in Nutrition: An International Review Journal 3, no. 4 (2012): 536-548.|
|↑5||The Science of Freezing Foods.University Of Minnesota Extension.|
|↑6||Gorrepati, Kalyani, S. Balasubramanian, and Pitam Chandra. “Plant based butters.” Journal of food science and technology 52, no. 7 (2015): 3965-3976.|
|↑7||Comerford, Kevin B. “Frequent canned food use is positively associated with nutrient-dense food group consumption and higher nutrient intakes in us children and adults.” Nutrients 7, no. 7 (2015): 5586-5600.|