When it comes to maintaining a healthy, nutritious diet sugar certainly is getting a lot of bad publicity. But another food that is being put into the “extremely unhealthy category” is processed foods. Is all of this bad publicity deserved? As with most topics there isn’t a clear answer. Processed foods are those that have been altered from their natural state, and often that makes them less healthy. But that doesn’t have to always be the case.
There are three basic reasons why food is processed by the industry from their natural state. They could be broken down into convenience, safety and to make food taste better. When food is processed through canning, dehydrating or freezing it is done for a specific purpose: to make that food more convenient for the consumer to use. As long as harmful additives are not included in processing such as sugar, processing does preserve most of the nutrients. In fact, some foods such as juices add calcium when processed, which makes them healthier. russian grocery store
So how do you know what are good processed foods versus bad processed foods? Your biggest defense will be knowledge, and are most important source of this knowledge is on the food labels. Fortunately much of what you need to know is there, but unfortunately unless you are a chemist they can be difficult to decipher. Plus food processors are basing what they put on these labels from directives from government agencies, and although they are trying to do the right thing they are not all-knowing when it comes to what is right and what may be right.
So when looking at food labels when buying processed foods, what should you be looking for?
1. Sugar content. Refined fructose is found in nearly all processed food in the form of some kind of corn syrup. It makes food taste sweeter, but it is primarily metabolized in the liver, which means this food additive can do to your liver what alcohol and other poisons can do.
2. Artificial preservatives. Artificial colors, shelf-life lengthening preservatives and artificial flavoring all have been linked to neurological issues. Much of the defense for using them is that as long as you limit their use you will probably be okay. That’s not much of an endorsement for a product’s health benefits.
3. Refined carbohydrates. Many breakfast foods such as cereal, waffles and bagels have refined carbs that quickly break down into sugar. These will truly play havoc with insulin levels, a contributor to insulin resistance.
4. Low in fiber. Most Americans don’t eat enough fiber, and much of that is because people eat processed foods rather than fruits and vegetables. Much of our fiber comes from the indigestible part of plant food, and rather than eat these types of foods along with nuts and seeds people snack on pretzels, chips and other processed foods empty of fiber.
5. Trans Fats and processed vegetable oil. Fried foods, bakery, crackers and chips are examples of food that is elevated in these terrible fats. They are usually quite easy to spot on the labels.