By Megan Johnson McCullough

We live in a world that operates at a fast pace, turning convenience and time efficiency into priorities. We have learned to compromise nutrition for what is easier, and we have created an entire new realm in grocery stores with an abundance of processed foods. And these products have quite the shelf life once you get home. We buy in bulk to save trips. Not exactly “fresh” by any means, but readily available and accessible for sure. Processed foods have taken over our eating habits.

Definition

So what makes a food “processed”? The term “processed” includes any food that has been changed on purpose before we eat it. This includes foods that have canned, cooked, frozen, or packaged in a way that alters their nutritional composition in order for better preservation.

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Think about how much of these types of food are part of your daily regimen. How many frozen pizzas have you had in your lifetime? Ever considered all the sodium that canned corn or black beans contains in order to preserve their shelf life? Think about all the salad bars or restaurants where you have had salad and thought you was eating totally clean and making a great choice, when in fact, most of the vegetables probably came out of can. That salad bar that offers “all you can eat” isn’t readily refurbished with fresh-off-the-farm options. Our bodies can only take so much of this, and the growing obesity rate is a reflection of this trend.

Spectrum

Not all processed foods are as bad as others.

Processed food fall on a spectrum from minimally to heavily processed:

  • Minimally processed foods include bagged spinach, vegetables that are cut up and sold at the store and roasted nuts.
  • Foods processed at their “peak” have better nutritional quality. This list includes canned tomatoes, frozen fruit and vegetables, and canned tuna.
  • Foods with ingredients added for flavor or that need texture. These include sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives. Food of this type include jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt and box mixes like corn bread or cake.
  • Ready-to-eat foods. These are very highly processed and include crackers, granola bars and deli meat. That sandwich shop may or may not have fresh meat in between the bread considering the cost effectiveness of having items that will last longer.
  • The most heavily processed foods are those that are pre-made which include frozen pizza and microwave dinners. The T.V. dinner is of course easy, lasts practically forever, and doesn’t put a hole in your wallet.

What Happened to Nourishment?

It seems as though the concept of eating food to nourish our bodies has been lost. We have to look out for added sugars and sodium on all labels. It is odd that we are eating “altered” food. Food has become industrialized. Bottom line is that it’s about money. Food is meant to be our source of energy and nutrition. However, we have become consumers of products. We have fallen victim to the allurement of advertisements and additives that make us want more. Celebrities are the faces of brands that make them popular. The food companies’ goal is to make money, just as any business strives to do.

The truth is that it is hard to avoid processed foods at some point in your eating be it beverages or condiments. Most of us grew up on cereal. Bottom line is that fresh is best. Protein bars and now chips and cookies are options to help with fitness goals, but yes, they are processed too despite being packed with protein. True muscle growth and true health comes from real food. Swap a protein shake for a chicken breast. Skip a bar and have a couple hard boiled eggs. Nourish your body and eat for your goals the right way using the right “process”.

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