Not All Processed Foods Are Unhealthy Foods

Yes dietitians often talk about having a diet based on wholefoods, but not all processed foods are necessarily bad.  The best thing you can do is ignore the marketing claims on the front of the package by getting to grips with reading the food ingredients list and make your own decision before completely writing off the food as being bad.

Don’t forget that most foods go through some sort of processing in order to make them edible and digestible. So what exactly is processing – it is essentially canning, cooking, freezing, dehydration or milling.  But of course, the main concern is what are the manufacturers adding in or taking out!  Such as adding in sodium and sugar, or reducing the nutritional value of the product.

So let’s have a closer look at processed food products

Refined grains: These include white flour and white rice. Milling whole grains removes the bran (which contains most of the fibre) and the germ (which contains protein, fat, vitamins and minerals). Adding nutrients back after processing, called fortification, may not restore the original nutritional profile. However, you don’t need to ban refined grains from your diet completely. Try to shift the balance in the other direction — by introducing more whole-grain products to the meal, such as vegetables, salad or having a mix of white and brown rice / pasta in a meal.  Wholegrain breakfast cereals are a good source of fibre, energy and extra vitamins & minerals, such as iron, that might be added.  The key is to look on the food label and be on alert for the sugar content of breakfast cereals.  If it contains less than 5g sugar per 100g then it is considered a low sugar breakfast cereal.

  • Added sugar: Like table sugar is a refined carbohydrate. This is considered unhealthy if it takes up too much of your diet. Many processed foods contain added sugar.  Easy targets for change are desserts, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages.  You can still enjoy these sparingly rather than banning them entirely.  Let’s not demonize particular foods, don’t forget it’s about having a balance in your diet and overall making healthier choices.
  • Sodium: Processed foods from the supermarket often contain a lot of added sodium.  At the top of the list are canned soups, breads, frozen foods and processed meats. Consuming an excessive amount of sodium has been linked to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke.  Canned vegetables are often convenient, cheap and still very nutritious.  Try rinsing tinned veggies in cold water to get rid of excess salt.  Remember, the very fact that these foods are convenient can mean the person is more likely to eat a healthier diet.   Salty sauces and seasonings are sometimes contained in frozen vegetables.  The trick is to look for overall nutritional value by reading the ingredients list.  If the ingredients on the package say ‘peas’ and not much else, that’s a good sign.  Canned fish have huge nutritional value, including omega-3 fatty acids, protein and they are low in fat.  On the supermarket shelves they can be found in not only brine (salty water, which can be rinsed anyway), but also in tomato sauce, oil and fresh water.  It’s a matter of looking and keeping your mind open.  Guidelines for salt intake for adults is 6g a day (2.4g sodium a day).

We know that healthy diets emphasise whole foods – those that still contain what nature gave them.  Hopefully I have helped to also clear up any misinformation on processed foods.  Remember, it’s all about ‘balance’. shutterstock_205446052