Edit ModuleShow Tags
Published:

Why Processed Food Isn't All Bad



Why Processed Food Isn't All Bad | Food and Nutrition Magazine | Stone Soup Blog

Article author photo. Kitty Broihier, MS, RD, LD This featured post is by Kitty Broihier, MS, RD, LD. You can follow this blogger on Twitter @NutricommInc.

I'm not one of those dietitians who hates all processed foods. You won't find me proclaiming the evils of food processing in aisles of the health food store or at the farmers market. Nevertheless, I am interested enough in the trend of others avoiding processed foods that I eagerly read Megan Kimble's Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food.

The book confirmed what I thought already: striving to eat a completely unprocessed diet is ridiculous. At least, for me it is. Kimble's account of her attempts to eat nothing but whole, unprocessed foods for an entire year, however, was interesting, informative and entertaining. Kimble investigates where to draw the health line in the food-processing continuum — which foods are so minimally processed that they are fine for the body and the planet, and which could she firmly stamp as "unacceptable" and how would she make do without them.

Unprocessed did prompt me to think more about processed foods. It also left me shaking my head and wondering what the point of the experiment really was — especially since not all types of processing render the food overly-handled, devoid of nutrients or laden with added substances that might be better avoided.

There's Processed Food and Then There's Processed Food

Not all processed food is bad for your health — Unprocessed acknowledges that. Obviously, there are levels of food processing, and I'm a big fan of some of it. Food processing started out mainly as a safety measure, one that would keep food fresher longer and prevent food-borne illness. Who can argue with freezing as a processing step that preserves food safely?'Unprocessed' by Megan Kimble | Food and Nutrition Magazine | Stone Soup Blog

Let's face it, pretty much all food purchased at supermarkets these days is processed in some way. Even fresh fruits and veggies — which many people consider to be unprocessed — are processed. They're washed, treated to prevent spoilage, trimmed, cut into different shapes and often packaged either at a manufacturing facility or at the store. This kind of processing counts as "minimally" processed.

Then, there are the "highly processed" foods: cereals, crackers, breads, candies, pastries and snack foods, some canned foods, and, of course, frozen convenience foods. According to a recent study from the University of North Carolina, 61 percent of the food we eat is "highly processed." So when talking about "processed food," realize that it's a very inclusive term, one that includes plenty of really healthful foods that we should be eating more of — not trying to remove from our plates. It might be better to start regularly describing foods as "minimally processed" or "highly processed" in order to differentiate the concept for consumers.

Processed Food Can Help You Eat Better

Yep, you heard me! Without some help in getting healthy foods to my table, I'm less likely to eat it (and I suspect many others feel the same way). For instance, it would take too long to shell all the beans and peas I want to consume, there's no way I would crack nuts and seeds by hand the rest of my days, and you couldn't pay me to take meat and poultry from its live animal status to plucked or skinned, trimmed and ready-for-the-grill status.

Therefore, you'll find me somewhere in the middle: some processing is good, but too much isn't. Tweet this

Kimble provides many examples of the trials and tribulations she faced while trying to un-process her diet. Waiting for salt to appear from seawater she collected in a pail, grinding her own wheat by hand, taking a class on butchering meat — these are not activities I see myself doing (though I did find reading about them interesting). The amount of time she devoted to sourcing and preparing various foods and ingredients sounded like a descent into drudgery to me. In many cases, Kimble chooses the path of complete processed food avoidance, finding it easier to abstain completely than make some small allowances. Not eating something at all when one cannot figure out the processing level of absolutely every ingredient in it sounds easy, but in real life she finds that it isn't. She feels awkward in some social scenes, and left out in others (eating at restaurants was particularly difficult).

Tips to "Unprocess" Your Diet That I Agree With

Many people could improve their diets substantially by making just a few smart choices in the quality of food they purchase — and none of these choices require all-day efforts. Unprocessed includes three tips right up front in the book that I think make perfect sense.

  • Buy plenty of food that doesn't need a label at all: fresh produce, for example.
  • Choose single-ingredient foods — one that have ingredient lists just one or two words long: rolled oats, cream, navy beans, wild rice.
  • Start reading food labels and think about which ingredients you want to avoid before you start shopping. You'll save yourself some agonizing decisions (and time) while standing in aisle 9.


Kitty Broihier, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian, nutrition communications professional and co-author of Everyday Gluten-Free Slow Cooking. Read her blog, and connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

(Photo: 3dalia/iStock/Thinkstock)

Edit Module

More Stone Soup

Apple Crisp (Absolutely) Anytime

Apple Crisp (Absolutely) Anytime

When it comes to apples, I enjoy them simply. They taste so perfectly on their own with skin that snaps as you bite into it and juice rolling down your wrist, that I don’t usually like to adulterate them with a slather of peanut butter or baked into a pie. But every fall, I crave the warm, comforting dish of Apple Crisp.
Strategies for Happy and Healthy Holiday Parties With Kids

Strategies for Happy and Healthy Holiday Parties With Kids

I have a radical suggestion: Consider letting your kids have free reign. Why? Three reasons ...
Celebrate Strawberries with a Unique Salad Combo

Celebrate Strawberries with a Unique Salad Combo

As you start to see strawberries in the grocery store, think of this uniquely sweet and crisp salad!
The Tasty Science of Flavorful Grilled Vegetables

The Tasty Science of Flavorful Grilled Vegetables

"Let's grill tonight" often translates as "Let's eat meat tonight." That's not really surprising since grilled meat products create hundreds of complex aroma and flavor compounds. While grilled vegetables create less of these crave-inducing compounds, they do develop delicious flavor profiles that can make them popular even with "veg-avoiders."
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Advertise with Food & Nutrition
Edit ModuleShow TagsEdit ModuleShow Tags


Stone Soup

Guest bloggers from around the world share with Food & Nutrition Magazine.

About This Blog

Stone Soup is a guest blog written by members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Content — including information, recipes and views expressed — is that of the authors and does not reflect the positions or policies of Food & Nutrition Magazine or the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Bloggers are required to pledge they will not write for Stone Soup on topics, companies or trade organization they currently represent or have represented at any time.

Learn about our guest blogs!

Comments Policy

Food & Nutrition Magazine provides this forum to exchange ideas, opinions and contributions within a positive community. Diverse viewpoints and constructive, respectful dialogue are welcome. Rudeness, misinformation, self-promotion and abuse are not. We reserve the right, without warning or notification, to remove comments and block users we determine violate this policy or our Terms & Conditions. You must include your name or be logged into a personal account on Disqus, Facebook, Twitter or Google+ to comment.

Archives

Edit Module

Get Stone Soup in Your RSS

Use your RSS reader's instructions to add Stone Soup to your list:

Atom Feed Subscribe to the Stone Soup Feed »

Get Our Blogs in Your Email

Stone Soup
Student Scoop