Understanding the Positives of “Processed” Foods

by Donna Quirk, MBA RD LD
LMC Clinical Nutrition Manager
As we consumers increasingly scrutinize our food choices and selections, we don’t have to look far to find negative messages about processed foods.  As a result, many of us see them only as sources of add saturated fat, trans fat, sugar, and artificial flavors leading to obesity and heart disease.  And, although this is true of some processed foods, there are also health benefits to foods that fit the processed food definition.  It is important to not overlook the positives.

First, some information about the definition of a processed food.  They include foods that have been washed, cleaned, milled, cut, chopped, heated, pasteurized, blanched, canned, frozen and mixed.  Processing may also include adding ingredients, including important vitamins and minerals.
To help us understand the variety and variation in processed foods, the International Food Information Council has created five categories. With examples, they are:

  • Minimally Processed Foods – Washed, packaged, fruits and vegetables
  • Foods Processed for Preservation – Canned/frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Mixtures of Combined Ingredients – Cake mixes, salad dressings
  • Ready-to-Eat Foods – Breakfast cereals, lunch meats
  • Convenience – Frozen meals, pizza

There are foods in all of these categories that can have a significant benefit to our diets.  Frozen or packaged fruits and vegetables are a fantastic way to eat more of these nutrient packed foods.  They are also time-savers when trying to create a nutritious meal.  Breakfast cereals, preferably low in sugar, can be a significant source of fiber in the diet.  Milk and orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D improve our intake of these vital nutrients.  Folate needs, so important for pregnant women, simply would not be met without fortification in our food supply.

All the result of processing.

So, when making important food selections keep in mind the “positives” of processed foods.

Source:  Fox, Matthew.  Defining Processed Foods for the Consumer. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics – February 2012 (Vol. 112, Issue 2, Page 214, DOI: 10.1016/j.jand.2011.12.014)

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