YOU may have noticed that the term “processed foods” has been floating around for the past few months, with many reporting how harmful eating these foods can be to your health.
And while the term “processed foods” sounds pretty similar, there’s actually a difference between the two and what they can do for your body.
Registered Dietitian Rhiannon Lambert said many of her clients at Rhitrition Clinic would often ask her, “Should I give up processed foods?”
But the Sunday Times bestselling author of The Science of Nutrition told The Sun: “While highly processed foods such as sweets, many baked goods and ready meals – which often lack the original fiber content of the food and contain salt, fats, and sugars – should be of a healthy and balanced diet, there are some foods that can be processed that are actually very nutritious.”
She went on to describe how to tell the difference between the two.
Processed vs. highly processed foods
Food scientists use what’s called the NOVA classification system to classify foods into one of four categories, Rhiannon explained.
These are: unprocessed and minimally processed foods; processed culinary ingredients; processed foods; and highly processed foods.
“Processed foods are products to which unprocessed foods such as oats, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, grains, yogurt, etc., as well as salt, oil or sugar have been added to preserve shelf life and improve flavor and texture.” product,” explained the nutritionist.
She cited canned or bottled pickled vegetables and legumes as examples; salted or sweetened nuts and seeds; salted, dried, cured or smoked meat and fish; Fish preserves (with or without added preservatives); fruit in syrup (with or without added antioxidants); and freshly made, unpackaged bread and cheese.
Meanwhile, highly processed foods are products that have undergone industrialized processing techniques that alter a food’s sensory properties, Rhiannon said.
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They often have large amounts of a long list of ingredients added to them, such as salt, sugar, fats and flavor enhancers.
But colorants, emulsifiers, sweeteners, thickeners, as well as antifoams, bulking, carbonating, foaming, gelling and glazing agents could also be added to the mix, the nutritionist said.
Highly processed foods also contain additives that extend their shelf life, protect the original properties of the food or prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.
Examples include many convenience products such as carbonated soft drinks and sweet or savory packaged snacks, chocolate, candies, ice cream, and mass-produced packaged breads and rolls.
But it also includes margarines and other spreads, biscuits, pastries, cakes and cake mixes, breakfast cereals, energy bars and energy drinks.
And it might surprise you, but milk drinks, as well as “fruit” yoghurts and “fruit” drinks are also on the list.
“Processed foods are not always automatically inferior or less healthy than fresher or less processed foods,” Rhiannon explained.
“A lot of the food we buy in the supermarkets has gone through some form of processing,” she said.
But whether they’re minimally or heavily processed has different implications for their nutritional value, the nutritionist explained.
“Often, foods are processed to extend shelf life, to ensure freshly harvested produce reaches near its maximum nutritional value in stores, and to replace lost vitamins or fortify certain nutrients,” she continued.
Rhiannon presented nutrient dense foods that are considered processed but are still highly nutritious and should therefore form part of a balanced, varied and healthy diet.
1. Baked Beans
“The humble baked bean” actually qualifies as a processed food.
Rhiannon said: “We often see these canned on store shelves so we know they have undergone processing mainly to extend shelf life, but these are some of the most affordable and nutritious ingredients money can buy. “
Baked beans “and other types of beans like kidney beans, black beans, and butter beans are a great way to increase your intake of B vitamins, iron, plant-based protein, and fiber,” Rhiannon noted.
She said a variety of beans can really help improve gut health and build some of the 30 Plants You Should Eat Weekly.
Rhiannon advised you to opt for beans that are preserved in water instead of brine.
And if you’re buying gravy-coated varieties, “make sure they’re reduced-sugar and reduced-salt varieties,” she recommended.
2. Preserved or frozen fruits and vegetables
You might think that you have to buy fresh fruit and vegetables to get the full nutritional value.
But according to Rhiannon, canning “can help preserve the fiber content, especially if the skin is left on.”
She recommended that you use fruit soaked in water instead of syrup or brine to keep extra salt and sugar intake to a minimum.
The nutritionist added: “Similarly, frozen fruits and vegetables often have a slightly higher nutritional value than fresh produce when purchased, as they are frozen immediately after harvest when they are at their highest nutrient density.”
3. Milk and fortified plant-based alternatives
“In the UK, milk is often processed with heat treatments and pasteurisation for preservation purposes, to keep it fresher for longer and also to ensure milk consumption is safe,” explained Rhiannon.
She said it’s still extremely nutritious and also provides you with calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, iodine, protein and carbohydrates.
Milk alternatives – also processed – can provide a vitamin kick.
Nut, pea, rice, oat, and coconut drinks all undergo a processing called fortification. This ensures that you are getting additional nutrients such as calcium, iodine, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
4. Whole Grains
“While whole grains aren’t themselves processed — hence the name — they’re often added to and processed in processed foods like bread,” Rhiannon said.
But they can be a great source of fiber, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and plant-based proteins.
Rhiannon promoted regular consumption as it has been linked to improved gut health and heart health, as well as a reduced risk of cancer, diabetes and obesity.
Yes, tofu is another nutrient-dense food that has undergone processing so it can be sold and eaten as tofu, according to Rhiannon.
“It’s also often fortified with nutrients like calcium, which is ideal for those who are on a plant-based diet and therefore don’t consume dairy as often.”