What Does the Term ‘Processed Food’ Actually Mean? Part 2

What Does the Term ‘Processed Food’ Actually Mean? Part 2

In Part 1 yesterday I started to identify processed foods and taking a look at what makes processed products and their impact on our health. Here I continue to concentrate on this subject which is seen as serious blight on modern life.

3. Convenience – processing can decrease cooking time (e.g. quick oats) or create ‘handy’ packaged foods

Imagine this: it’s a beautiful sunny day and you’ve stopped to rest under an apple tree. As you sit down and lean against the trunk, a ripe, juicy apple drops from above. A gift from the heavens!


You shine it up and crunch into it, savoring it’s fresh, sweet goodness. Bliss! Just three months later, you walk past the apple tree and it’s bare. You are hungry. That memory of the sunny day makes you want that crisp crunch of the apple.

Now what do you do?

Luckily, the shop down the lane sells dried apple chips so you can still get your fix. Not the same as a fresh apple, of course, but they will certainly satisfy your desire.

Of course, in our busy modern world, most people also feel they are simply too busy to prepare fresh food. Anyway, why spend so much time cooking, when processed foods are so much quicker?

Consider that:
– Quick oats microwave in 30 seconds, compared with 15 minutes for steel cut oats
– Par-boiled white rice cooks in 3 minutes, compared with 35 minutes for brown rice
– Instant mashed potato cooks in 2 minutes, compared with 30 minutes to peel, cook and mash whole potatoes

If you are worried about how little time you have, then processing is definitely your friend.

4. Taste and appearance – to enhance flavor, appearance, or to remove or disguise unpalatable ingredients.

Remember that juicy apple you enjoyed a few months ago? Well, it’s out of season now and you are apple-less.

If you had saved a few apples, then cut and dried them, you could be enjoying them right now. Well actually, they would look yellowy-brown. They might be a bit mouldy.

Urgh. Not cool.

Luckily you can buy commercially dried apples from the supermarket and still get that taste you want.

What Does the Term ‘Processed Food’ Actually Mean? Part 2Drying apples reduces their nutritional value. Then they are then treated with preservatives to enhance flavor and colour. Usually, that’s preservatives 220 (sulphur dioxide) and 223 (sulphur metabisulphite), in the sulphite group, which can cause headaches and elicit asthma attacks in some people.

Oh well! At least you can enjoy processed apple chips at any time of year.

What happens when we process food?

You can definitely see the benefits of processing food. But the downsides of processed food can include:

– Loss of 50 – 80% of important nutrients, in each stage of processing
– Removing nutrients that are an important for digesting the food

For example: removing the husk from wheat also removes the vitamins and minerals that are required to properly digest the wheat.

– Reducing or removing important dietary elements (e.g. fibre)
– Increasing the glycemic index (GI) or ‘blood sugar response’ of the food – a high GI diet is linked with overweight, diabetes and other chronic diseases.

For example: the GI of an unpeeled, boiled potato is around 55 (low), compared with the GI of instant mashed potato is 88 (high).

– Adding potentially harmful additives/preservatives

For example: the World Health Organisation recently (2015) announced that consumption of processed meats – meats that have been salted, cured, fermented, smoked or otherwise flavoured/preserved – are carcinogenic to humans.

The pros and cons of processed food

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about! Processed food is a contentious topic.

There are valid reasons to eat processed foods in some cases, and to avoid them in others. What’s the secret?

Getting the balance right

Let’s assume most people reading this article eat three main meals per day – that’s 21 meals per week. If you eat preserved, processed foods according to the above definitions, at 3-4 of those meals each week, you’re probably going to be ok.

Eat fresh, whole and in season foods as often as possible, and that processed stuff won’t even be an issue.

The take away message is this: “You are what you eat – so don’t be fast, cheap, easy or fake.”

Connect with Expert Melanie White.