From a long time, we are hearing that we should not eat processed foods as they are not good for our health. They put a negative impact on our diet. But have we stopped consuming processed food items? No, we have not, because there are many processed foods which we are consuming even without knowing that they are also processed food items. Before we, explain to you here that whether the processed foods are good or not, let’s first know what processed food is.
What is processed food?
A food item whose nutritional value or composition is changed by preparing it differently, or by preserving it, or fortifying it, is said to be a processed food. The food items are altered from their natural form. This is being done for the convenience and safety of the food items or for storing them for a long time. Most of the processed foods are packaged foods, pre-cooked foods, or chilled food items, or canned food items, etc. We need to understand that at present, we are not being able to get things directly from the farms or the different food resources. And processed foods provide us with that convenience to have those food items, as they are also important for us. However, we are not saying that all the food processed food items are important for us, and we should consume all of them. But we do need to understand that not all the processed food items are bad for our health. There are both good and bad processed food items available. Depending on their need, their nutritional value, and the preservatives which are added in them, we need to decide which of them are good for us and which are bad for us.
Minimally and Highly Processed Foods
The processed food fall in the spectrum of minimally and highly processed food items. We will help you know here; which food items are minimally processed and which are highly processed. Some of the nutritionists and dieticians suggest that one can eat minimally processed food. But there are a few things which we all need to check when we buy these processed food items so that we can know what we are consuming and in how much quantity. People need to come out of this myth that processed food items are not at all healthy. As there are certain processed food items which are rich in nutrients and are good for our health. As they have calcium, fiber, and a few other minerals and good dietary sources present in them.
Some of the minimally processed food items are roasted nuts, chopped vegetables, frozen fruits, frozen vegetables, bagged spinach, canned tuna, canned tomatoes, and a few more. Some of these food items are pre-cooked for the buyer’s convenience. Whereas some of them are processed for maintaining their nutritional value for a long time like frozen vegetables and fruits.
The highly processed food items contain mostly those food items which are pre-made meals. These food items include frozen fries, frozen pizza, frozen parathas, crackers, deli meat, granola, ready to eat meals, microwaveable meals, etc.
There is another category of processed food item which has added flavors in them, like salad dressing, cake mixes, hot chocolate, pasta sauce, jarred pickles, etc.
So, among all these categories of processed food items, we cannot say that they all are not good for consuming. Because we cannot deny with the fact that most of us even consume the pasteurized and homogenized milk also, or we consume the packaged paneer or tofu also, which have good nutritional value, however, they are also being processed.
Some alternatives for processed food items
We agree that eating processed food is not completely bad for health. It is good in many ways like it helps in saving our time, as we just have to heat the food, it also provides us nutrients rich flavored food items like yogurt, flavored milk (almond milk, coconut milk), and a few other things. But when we can have the alternatives in place of these processed food items, then why not.
- Try to take unflavoured nuts like cashews, pistachios, and walnuts, instead of eating flavored nuts. Try to buy unsalted nuts.
- Buy corn kernels, as they are easy to cook, instead of buying instant popcorns or readymade popcorns.
- Try having frozen fruit or normal fruits with smoothies or cereals or oats, instead of adding dried fruits to them. Dried fruits contain more of added sugar which is not healthy.
- Instead of buying top ramen or instant noodles, try cooking zucchini noodles at home. You can add vegetables to it, to make it delicious and yummy.
What to look for when buying processed food items?
When buying the processed food items, there are a few things which we should check on their labels before we purchase them.
Look for sugar quantity – We cannot deny the fact that most of these processed food items have added sugar in them. So, always look out for the label and check whether they have added sugar in them or not. And if they do have to check the quantity of the sugar. Added sugar means the sugar which is not there in the food naturally and it is being added for flavoring. Added sugars are not good for health, so try not to eat too much-processed food items with added sugar.
Check the presence of salt or sodium – Another thing to check is the salt and sodium in the processed food items. Salt is one common ingredient which is mostly added in the processed food items as it helps in preserving them. So, whenever you buy such processed foods like instant vegetables, instant soups, etc., look for the salt quantity in them. Because an excess of salt present in them will lead to different health-related problems. Even if you have to eat that food, make sure that you do not add more salt to it.
Check the artificial ingredients – Be it for adding the flavor, or for preserving the food item, artificial ingredients are added to the processed food items. Some preservatives, flavoring substances, colorants, and texturants, are added to the processed food items. Why we are saying to check for the artificial ingredients is because sometimes, they do contain chemicals especially the preservatives. They may not be harmful to food, but consuming them regularly or in excess can be harmful to your health.
Check the nutritional value – As we have mentioned above only, that not all the processed food items are low in nutrients. Some of them have good nutritional value also like milk, cottage cheese, roasted nuts, etc. The nutritional value of the processed food items is also written at the label. Do not forget to check it before buying.
So, now we can say that processed food items are good. However, we should consume them in limited amount only, as they are not all the processed food items are healthier. If we have easy alternatives for processed foods, we should try them instead of consuming processed food.