Processed food | Sustain Nutrition

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Processed food

James Walker | Director

Processed foods

What counts as processed food?

Examples of common processed foods include:
• breakfast cereals
• bread
• savoury snacks, such as crisps, sausage rolls, pies and pasties
• “convenience foods”, such as microwave meals or ready meals
• cakes and biscuits
• soft drinks

Not all processed food is a bad choice. Some foods need processing to make them safe, such as milk, which needs to be pasteurised to remove harmful bacteria.

Obviously lots of food goes through ‘a process’ to make it to your plate.
Please think of processed foods as being items that don’t really appear in nature.

Butter is a simple process that comes when cream separates from milk. This is a natural process that only takes a little patience. Once the cream and milk have separated, all you need to do is skim off the cream and shake it until it becomes butter…apparently.

Now let’s compare that to the production of canola oil. Here’s an overly simplified version of the process:

Step 1: Find some “canola seeds.” Oh wait, they don’t exist. Canola oil is actually made from a hybrid version of the rapeseed… most likely genetically modified and heavily treated with pesticides.
*Canola oil’s real name is “LEAR” oil (Low Erucic Acid Rape) but this isn’t that catchy!

Step 2: Heat the rapeseeds at unnaturally high temperatures so that they oxidize and are rancid before you ever buy them.

Step 3: Process with a petroleum solvent to extract the oils.

Step 4: Heat some more and add some acid to remove any nasty wax solids that formed during the first processing.

Step 5: Treat the oil with more chemicals to improve the colour.

Step 6: Deodorize the oil to mask the horrific smell from the chemical processing.

Of course, if you want to take your vegetable oils one step further, just hydrogenated it until it becomes a solid. Now you have margarine and all its trans-fatty wonder.

What makes some processed foods less healthy?

Ingredients such as salt, sugar and fat are sometimes added to processed foods to make their flavour more appealing and to extend their shelf life, or in some cases to contribute to the food’s structure, such as salt in bread or sugar in cakes.

Buying processed foods can lead to people eating more than the recommended amounts of sugar, salt and fat as they may not be aware of how much has been added to the food they are buying and eating.

These foods can also be higher in calories due to the high amounts of added sugar or fat in them.
These foods are generally fast to digest as they are already in a semi broken down state, this means they are less satiating and also can cause havoc with blood sugar.

Processed foods tend to be made in a lab and are designed to be over eaten.
‘’once you pop you can’t stop’’
The combinations of sweet and salty are unlike anything found in nature and play havoc with the inner caveperson in us making us crave more and destroying our biological signals to stop eating when full.

Whilst some processed foods certainly can still be enjoyed they should be part of a balanced diet that is made up with the majority of real foods.

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