A few weeks ago, I received a couple questions inside of the Nourished with Emily Facebook group about processed foods. This person asked: "I just found out that cereal is a highly processed food and someone on social media encouraged NOT eating highly processed foods. What does this even mean?!"
As nation, we are becoming more and more aware to how our food is grown, processed and ends up on our plate, especially with the coming of higher food prices and supply chain issues. We know that nutrition is a HUGE piece of our overall health and vitality and that without proper nutrition, we can increase our risk for other diseases and issues.
So the question of, is processed foods okay for me to eat, comes into play. Let's first understand what exactly processed foods are, what is the processing of foods and the degrees of processing.
What are processed foods and what does it mean?
All of our foods needs to be processed before we eat it, not many people can go in their back yard, and bring in dinner for the night or have fresh meat. Processing of our food means taking it from the source and turning it into an edible and safe form for us to eat. Our food can be processed to different degrees. Vegetables, fruits and meats may be minimally processed as they are the "single ingredient" sold in the grocery store. Peanut butter and cereal are going to be more processed as they are changing from their original form.
What kind of processed foods should I look out for?
The problem with some processed foods is that they lose a lot of their healthy nutrients during the processing. When we break down wheat to turn it into flour, we usually lose part of the whole grain where the heart healthy fats, protein and fiber are. If you're looking for a nutrient in particular or focused on increasing fiber, the less refined grains the better. We do have enrichment (addition of new nutrients to product like calicum in orange juice) and fortification (adding back the nutrients that was lost during processing) to help us ensure we are not missing our on vitamins and minerals lost during processing.
What are ultraprocessed foods?
These are foods that have had their form completely changed from the original state, These foods are usually higher in sodium and saturated fat, as a way to make them more pallatable and shelf stable. These are foods like the frozen meals, ready to eat snacks and such. These foods can be part of a healthy diet but we should work on including more nutrient dense items are the forefront of our meals.
Should I be concerned about processed foods?
The short answer: no. ALL of our food needs to be processed in order for it to reach our tables. We should be choosing more simple ingredients to be the stars of our meals and if a convenience item shows up on the side, that is FINE. Make the time and effort to have some balanced meals and it won't hurt to have some fun foods too!
You should not be overly concered about processed foods. As long as you're working on a healthy diet and some more processed foods end up on the plate, you can still reach your goals.
Need help rebooting your diet and wanting to learn more a proper plate? Reach out to NWE and let us guide and support you!