Processed foods have a bad reputation. Do they deserve it?
Very simply, processed foods are any foods which have been altered from their original state. To be fair, there are varying degrees of food processing, as most foods are processed to some degree.
Fruits and vegetables are washed and sometimes waxed, and drinking water is often filtered. But these minimal processes do not alter the nutritional value of the food. For our purposes here, we are discussing the generally accepted, mainstream opinion of processed food, which is convenience foods that contain ingredients like oils, fats, sweeteners, flours and salt.
These types of products often contain food additives meant to enhance flavor, make them shelf stable, and allow them to require minimal preparation. In addition, most food additives provide little to no nutritional value, and can even negate the nutritional value of any whole foods a product may contain.
One of the most talked about food additives is high fructose corn syrup. The corn syrup industry has been running commercials intended to convince consumers that corn syrup is natural and healthy. While the base of high fructose corn syrup is made from a natural product (corn), research indicates that this processed food additive has been linked to:
- elevated triglycerides
- an increased tendency to overeat
- an increased risk of heart disease & diabetes
- decreased levels of chromium, a mineral important in maintaining healthy levels of blood sugar, insulin & cholesterol
Another common additive in processed foods is salt. It’s in everything from canned vegetables and deli meats, to ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. In fact, a full three-quarters of the sodium most of us ingest isn’t from a salt shaker, it’s from the processed foods we eat.
Research has linked an overabundance of sodium to:
- high blood pressure
- stroke & cardiovascular disease
Yet another additive frequently found in processed foods is trans fat. It’s what makes muffins moist, crackers crisp and microwave popcorn tasty. It has also been attributed to cause an estimated 30,000 to 100,000 premature heart disease deaths each year.
- it increases LDL (bad) cholesterol
- it decreases HDL (good) cholesterol
- it increases artery-clogging lipoprotein and triglycerides
Even if you don’t want to make the leap to minimally processed organic raw foods, there are alternatives that are still convenient, yet significantly healthier.
Oftentimes, specialty foods are made by small-scale food producers who are committed to maintaining the integrity of the
ingredients they use. Many try to use local and organic ingredients, with no additives or preservatives.
Bio: Ginnifer Gianelli is devout foodie, researcher, and writer. She loves her husband, but obeys her dog. She blogs at Fooducopia.com.