Processed foods — should you avoid them?
Sometimes we hear people make statements like, “I don’t eat any processed foods!” — and then open up a Greek yogurt or order hummus with pita bread, all of which are processed. What I think some health gurus are trying to say when they make that sort of pronouncement is rather, “Avoid or limit foods that have been highly processed and include high amounts of fats/sodium(salt)/sugars.”
The definition of “processing” can simply mean taking a food item from an inedible or raw state to one that is edible, so in fact processing can include: boiling, baking, milling, grinding, peeling, homogenizing, pasteurizing cutting, etc. Some processing is done to make foods safe to eat (pasteurizing, roasting) and other types of processing (adding emulsifiers or mold inhibitors) can be used to improve taste, color or shelf stability.
If we think of the processing of foods as more of a continuum let’s look at some general examples moving from minimally processed to ultra or highly processed.
•Baked whole potato
•Glass of (cow’s) milk
•Peeled potato made into baked fries
•Plain Greek yogurt
•100 percent grape juice
•Flavored, salted, bagged potato chips
•Grape-flavored soda or grape drink
•Flavored frozen Greek yogurt popsicle
Note: This is not to say that ultra or highly processed foods are “bad,” but just that more often we should be choosing foods that are minimally or moderately processed rather than foods that are highly/ultra processed.
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