Yes, you read that right, stigmatized processed food can also add to your healthy living. These tempting processed foods are impossible to avoid, and I say you do not need to avoid them, but choose them wisely. The key to making a smart choice is to know what type of processed food are you buying? What is in it? Devoting a little time can help you make healthy decisions. If you think processed food is just limited to fast food, chips, mac, and cheese, then you should also be aware of juices, home-made soups, dairy products, etc. which have made your life easier.
“It’s always good to know what is in your food whether you are food professional or not. It’s always good to pay more for the food than later paying for your health issues. You should know what type of food you should eat and what should be avoided to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Coz If you are healthy, you are wealthy.”
Most of the food products come under the category of processed food in some or other way such as waxed apples, freshly packed tomatoes, bagged spinach, deli meat, etc. Eliminate the processed food which has lousy status from the diet. However, many other foods play a significant role in the balanced diet. Confused? To understand what processed food is? Let us first learn about the supply chain of food from farm to fork.
The supply chain of food products
Harvested produce from the farm needs ambient temperature and hygienic conditions for prolonged shelf life. Therefore, cold storages, warehouses helps in storing food at different temperatures per there requirement. Next stage is processing, where the raw material is made suitable for end users, or it is processed to improve its quality and make it safe such as to produce oil, pressing, separating, refining, etc. is required and for milk, pasteurization is essential to make it safe for drinking and increase its shelf life. After processing, it is packed to reserve its inherent qualities.
Different types of packaging technologies serve different functions to make our life more comfortable and convenient and keep our food on the shelf for prolonged days. Before it reaches retailers, distributors handle and supply them through transportation to different places. It is just the importance of processed food that enables us to eat any food, being seasonal, anywhere any time of the year. This is how our food from the farm reaches our plate.
How to make healthy decisions at the grocery store?
Learning in depth about the processing of food, I think will help remove the fear of eating processed food because it’s more than what you think it is. Coming back to the types of processed foods, let’s decide how can we make healthy choices at grocery stores. Most important is to have control over the amount of sugar, salt and fat present in the food you are buying. As these additional ingredients may hurt your health. Eating more than recommended no. of calories can make you prone to Diabetes, Cardiovascular diseases, and Obesity. So, the most significant difference to learn while selecting is whether your food is chemically processed or mechanically processed?
Important points to take care while shopping:
- Most of the sweet products are usually loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup. HFCS is sweetener found in most food products such as ketchup, applesauce, and processed, flavored processed oatmeal and canned fruits. Many brands do this, but it is us who should be aware of finding HFCS in the ingredient list on the packaging.
- Another ingredient to look out in ingredient label is artificial additives of any form. Of course, all the additives listed on ingredient label goes through quality and safety testing and are recognized under specified standards and regulations. But eating different processed foods all day keeps them accumulating in the body causing significant concerns.
- Processed food contains mostly unhealthy fats like trans fats, hydrogenated fats, vegetable oils thereby increasing the risk of heart disease.
- Limit highly processed foods such as bottled salad dressings, packaged lunch meats, imitation foods like syrups, margarine, lemonade powder, processed cheese products, etc.
These ingredients on accumulation in the body cause health diseases, so it’s important to check the ingredient list and decide what to buy and what not to buy? There are many brands in the market which do not add these chemical additives and replace them with natural additives. This replacement of artificial or chemical additives with natural additives provides “clean label” to the food product. This helps in figuring out real, natural food which has no added artificial ingredients.
How to choose your processed food?
Look out for the statements like ALL NATURAL, 100% JUICE, NO ADDED FLAVOR/ COLOR, NO ANTIBIOTICS, NO ARTIFICIAL ADDITIVES, NO SUGAR ADDED, etc. This will make easy to recognize and understand the actual ingredients of the food you are eating.
“It’s you who have to decide what processed food means to you? How can processed food provide you healthier and safe options? How food preparation time has reduced and how food cost has declined over the years?”
What can you eat?
Now that you have learned what to avoid in processed food, it’s time to move forward to determine what you can eat?
Food is processed not only for ease and convenience, but there are many health benefits associated with it. Processing of food meets the targeted goals of producing a quality product. It keeps the food fresh and safe till the time it reaches customers. Thermal and non-thermal food treatments are integrated to get intended sensory attributes, maximize shelf life and terminate the risk of spoilage. Non-thermal treatment overcomes the negative impacts of heat on nutritional quality. Different food processing techniques fulfill the needs of different dietary requirements.
Smarter you snack, healthier you are
- Pasteurized milk has enhanced shelf life and fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
- While selecting Juices, look for statements like 100 % juice, added nutrients, no artificial sugar/color.
- While selecting breakfast cereals look for added fiber, no High fructose corn syrup, high protein, no preservatives, etc.
- Canned fruits and vegetables are the best alternative when the seasonal fruit is not available but BE CAREFUL to check its ingredients. It should not have added sugars, heavy syrup, salt, etc. Instead, pack them in its juice or water.
- Just don’t rely on taste alone but be aware of nutritional labels on the packaging. Take some time while selecting your food, you should know what is in the food you are eating.
- Iodized salt, Omega-3-fatty acids in yogurt, and other bioactive compounds fortified in foods are some smarter way to buy food.
Replace . . .
- Replace fried potato chips with baked beans or tofu chips, packaged popcorn with homemade popcorns, sodas with juices and smoothies, chocolates with fruit and nut bars (without added sugar), flavored yogurt with plain yogurt, ice-cream with homemade coconut granita or yogurt parfait popsicles.
Add . . .
- Add organic food to your diet mainly fruits such as strawberries, apples, peach, grapes, tomato; dairy products, vegetables such as spinach, potato and bell peppers.
- You should add functional foods like omega-3 enriched eggs, oats, fatty fish, probiotic drinks, leafy greens to your diet. Rotate these functional foods in your diet all year long to provide antioxidants and other phytochemicals to boost the digestive system and immunity.
- Spices and condiments act as natural remedies against many health problems. They foster fat burning, keeps blood sugar level balanced, fights cancer and cardiovascular diseases, improve joints and bone health, etc.
- Microgreens have a high amount of bioactive components which make them must in your diet.
What else to add?
Processed food contributes to our healthy lifestyle by adding many nutrients and bioactive compounds in our food. Add green leafy vegetables and colorful fruits to your diets. Avoid eating meat for more than two times a week. Add multigrain to your diet in any form and reduce your sugar consumption. Replace sugar or artificial sweeteners with honey, dates, and cinnamon, etc. In the morning have two handfuls of different nuts every day. Increase protein diet by adding beans, tofu, textured vegetable protein in your meals.
There are many sturdy raw materials available to us which we don’t buy. The reason being we don’t have enough time to cook, or we cannot eat because of intolerance, allergies found in them. On the other hand, finished products/ processed foods obtained from those raw materials are ready to make/serve. They consume less time for cooking, are safe with standard rules and regulations. Notably, they treat raw material to remove allergens and other harmful ingredients.
In a nutshell, it’s in our hands to decide and choose the food we eat. Decide not only based on cost and convenience but also on your gender, age, nutritional information, energy level, and ingredients.