Are Processed Foods Unhealthy?
Unless your shopping trip to the grocery store is limited to the far perimeter aisles, there is a good chance your diet contains some form of processed food. Processed foods are defined as, “any food other than a raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, drying, dehydrating, mixing, packing or other procedures that alter the food from its natural state,” according to the International Food Information Council. Whew, that’s a lot of qualifiers! Processed foods can also include added preservatives, flavors, nutrients or other food substances.
Dr. Sean O'Keefe, a food science professor at Virginia Tech, says processed foods such as fast food typically have higher salt content and low moisture content to inhibit mold growth. Breads often have propionic acid added to prevent mold. The combination of high salt and low moisture prevent spoilage. This is why you see that fast food doesn’t change much in appearance over time. These particular techniques are not new; people have applied the use of drying and salting techniques to food preservation for years.
Dr. Wendy Dahl, Assistant Professor, Food Science and Human Nutrition Department at the University of Florida says, "Food processing is anything we do to modify food ingredients into foods or foods into a new form. We usually think of food manufacturers when we think about food processing, but we also “process” foods in our own kitchens. We may harvest vegetables from our own garden, blanch and freeze it. This is food processing. Freezing foods, especially when carried out commercially, do not make foods less healthy, nor does canning unless high amounts of salt or sugar are added. As most foods are in some way processed, we can’t simply state that processed foods are unhealthy. Processing often improves shelf-life and can lower risk of food-borne illness. The large variety of foods we have access to and our many convenience foods would simply not be possible without food processing."
Here are a few suggestions for incorporating more healthful options into your diet.
Best Food Facts covered this topic during the True? Or Not? Your Food Questions, Expert Answers webinar. Check out the webinar slides here.
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Poll Question: Which of the following processed foods are your favorite?