Are All Processed Foods Bad?
Processed Food – is it really so bad for you? We can all agree that too many people suffer or even die from preventable disease and ailments. We often hear about various ways to avoid heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and many other conditions. These “modern epidemics”—and ways to avoid falling victim to them—could keep you reading for a long time. As you research a healthier lifestyle, you will undoubtedly find the simple advice that you should avoid processed foods.
As with all simple solutions to complex problems, there’s more to it. What exactly are processed foods, should you avoid processed foods, and why are so many advising you to avoid them entirely?
First of all, most people would agree that a healthful diet excludes excessive calories, processed foods, sugars, and red meats. There’s a clear link between good health and excessive calorie, sugar, and red meat intake. Red meat, for example, when grass-fed from well kept animals and in moderation is not bad for you. The same link does not exist for processed foods. That’s probably because processed foods represent a far reaching variety of foods. They can’t all be bad can they?
What is processed food?
Processed food is any food that has been altered from its natural state in some way. Whether for food safety or convenience. Cooking, freezing, canning, drying, pickling, as well as lacto-fermentation and pasteurization are examples—many quite healthy.
Perhaps it’s not the fact that the food is processed so much as the manner in which it is processed. What has been added during processing? Are the health claims on the package true? How can you read beyond the marketing hype to determine whether or not a product is healthy?
You should always consult the Nutrition Facts section of each products packaging. Read the ingredients to determine if the product contains bad fats, or too much salt and sugar.
I took a look at two common products as examples: creamy peanut butter and ranch dressing. The peanut butter contains 15 ingredients including sugar, salt, corn syrup, and hydrogenated vegetable oil. The ranch dressing included 18 ingredients, among them sugar, salt, and canola oil. The ingredients listed on a package are listed by volume, so the higher the ingredient is on the list the more there is in the product. That is to say, there’s more of the first ingredient in the list than the others and the least of the last.
Some processed foods are over-filled with sugar, salt, and oil. Worse, the type of sugar is often not specified. These products are the types of processed foods to avoid.
So how do I know what to avoid?
Here’s a short list of common processed food ingredients to avoid as well as some helpful tips to get you on a healthy eating path:
- Avoid high-fructose corn syrup and sugar derivatives
- Skip products that include partially hydrogenated and modified vegetable oils
- Avoid trans fats or trans fatty acids
- Try non-dairy coffee creamers
- Always practice moderation: avoid too much of any one food
- Skip all artificial additives including emulsifiers (examples are carboxymethycellulose
(CMC), polysorbate 80 (P80)
As we learn more and more about how our diet affects our health, about the importance of the gut microbiome, we must be vigilant in ensuring that we’re not consuming foods that undermine our health. Sticking to real foods with real ingredients from natural sources and in moderation is a major step in the right direction.