I very much appreciate the passion and conviction I see regarding nutritious food. The term “processed food” is garnering a whole lot of attention these days. The recommendation to avoid “processed food,” because it’s “bad” is ubiquitous among health care providers, journalists, my college students, and even children. But whoa….. Is it really true, or is this a simplification of a more complex message? I am stepping into this carefully because the health professional who disagrees with any part of that statement may find them self in a position of distrust going against the “conventional’ wisdom.
Here are the facts. There is no clear definition of “processed food.” Most foods are processed in some way. “Processing” includes all of the things that are routinely done with food to make it more edible or safer to eat, including washing, trimming and peeling, blanching, cooking, chopping, blending, fermenting, baking, and so on. Unless you eat the carrot right out of the ground or bite the apple while it’s on the tree, it’s probably processed to some degree.
Some degree of processing actually serves a helpful purpose. Canning, drying, and freezing preserve food so that it is available even when foods are out of season or in low supply due to seasonal fluctuations. Some of the “earthiest,” most “granola” foods are processed. Speaking of granola, I’m a huge fan of Greek yogurt and granola, which I eat many mornings. But think about it. What must we do with milk to make yogurt? That’s right, milk the cow, pasteurize, ferment, and flavor. Should we worry about this “processing” of the milk? Not so much, in my opinion.
“Processed food” is not synonymous with “bad” food. Lets listen to the voice of informed reason in limiting foods (not extreme avoidance) that contain highly refined grains which have lost most, if not all, fiber and nutrients and have added trans fats or sugars. Let’s not jump on the “avoid-all-processed-food” bandwagon and be left with naught – afraid to eat, clinging to a select few “safe foods” that somehow squeezed through our strict food rules.