What are processed foods and why are they bad?


What are processed foods and why are they bad?

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Processed meats are bad, not necessarily processed foods. Technically processed foods include any food that was cut, washed, heated, pasteurized, canned, cooked, frozen, dried, dehydrated, mixed, or packaged. And many vegetables are just as nutritious after processing as they were before.

In fact, many dietitians wish people realized that vegetables don’t have to be fresh to be healthy, because then people would eat more vegetables. Frozen peas, for example, are easy to add to many dishes and you don’t have to worry about them going bad. Frozen stir fry vegetables provide a nice mix, as well. Canned vegetables are healthy, too. Just avoid additives like butter or salt.

But processed meats are normally preserved by smoking or salting, curing or adding chemical preservatives. Examples include ham, sausage, hot dogs, pepperoni, beef jerky, and various deli meats. Those are linked to an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

It’s kind of obvious that too much sugar or salt can be unhealthy. But the same is true of many chemicals used to preserve meats. And that includes both red meats and white meats, or both meats with nitrates or meats without nitrates — or at least at this point the studies don’t distinguish the different kinds of processed meats. Experts recommend reducing or even eliminating such meats from your diet.

Edit: I find it odd that this is controversial.

it is generally what is done to them in the processing, for instance many foods have huge amounts of salt added to preserve the contents and this can lead to increased blood pressure and the risk of strokes.

“Processed” foods is kind of a misnomer.

The issue isn’t so much the fact that the food was processed, but more about what kind of processing it went through and what was added to it. And to a large extent, how we’re manipulating food for sale instead of nutrition.

Take, as an example, a box of Twinkies versus a can of corn.

The can of corn is just as processed as the box of Twinkies. It’s cut, cooked, canned, and pasteurized. Sure, the nutritional content might not be *quite* as good as fresh, but it’s pretty close and the processing does a lot to make sure the food is available when people need it, even if it has to go into long-term storage.

But the Twinkies… they’re just as processed, but they’re also filled with unhealthy levels of sugar, tweaked to promote appetite and maximize pleasure, almost entirely devoid of nutrition outside of raw calorie count, and all of that is done in the name of maximizing sales.

So when you hear “processed foods,” what people are really talking about are the kinds of foods where the processing aims to maximize shelf life and marketability at the cost of nutrition.

“Processed foods” is a terrible way of saying “refined foods”, as in foods where the original ingredient has been purified from it’s original source into a refined ingredient. We refine pure sugar from beets and sugar cane, for example. We take corn, and separate out the starch; wheat, we remove the coating from the kernels to make white flour, etc.

The reason refined foods are bad is because they often have lots of calories (think sugar and starch), or undesirable properties (think purified fats that tend to clog arteries), with not much in the way of other nutrition (vitamins, fiber, etc.). Most naturally-occurring food is a big jumble of chemicals that our bodies can get nutrition from, but refined foods pick out a small fraction of the material and make them the main ingredients — mostly just things that give us calories to make us fat with very little else.

Why do we do that? Refined foods don’t spoil easily. If you make something from them to put in a package and sell, the ingredients are always consistent and your product comes out the same every time. And, of course, people like sweet, starchy, and fatty foods.

The reason “processed food” is a terrible name is that “process” could mean anything. Dicing a tomato is processing, but it doesn’t change the tomato’s nutrients. Cooking it does, but only a bit. Any sort of cooking or preparation of food is processing, and that’s not what makes nutritious or not.

Processed meat is bad because the processes we mean by processed meat: salting, curing, smoking increase the risk of cancer. Cooking and cutting are processes too, but they are not considered when we talk about processed meat.

For processed plant food, what’s bad is anything that removes fiber. So juicing or removing fibers to get white floor or white rice and anything cooked from white flour. Having a lack of fiber increase cholesterol problems, colorectal cancer, constipation, and IBS. Most people don’t eat enough fiber because they don’t eat enough unprocessed plant food. Again, any process that doesn’t remove fibers, like cutting for example, aren’t considered in the word processed plant food.