Politics of Processed Foods

If you’ve heard the saying, “Don’t eat it if you can’t pronounce the ingredients,” then you may be surprised that all-natural bananas contain 3-methylbutyl 1-ethanoate, which sound like chemicals from Breaking Bad.

Processed foods are typically seen as a no-no for healthy diets, but this view is terribly near-sighted.

Truthfully, processed foods include whole-wheat bread, frozen fruit and nuts. These are foods that most people would consider healthy, but they’re also processed. You see the problem here already – making food choices based on its processed status can be misleading.

Judging foods on a health continuum is an important step to eating better. For example, thinking processed foods are always unhealthy is an example of binary thinking. It’s easy to fall into this trap of black and white terms. Critical thinking is required to differentiate between a minimally processed food and a heavily processed option with added ingredients, but in doing so, you’re setting up for better dietary decisions.

Minimally processed foods include bagged spinach, canned tuna and frozen vegetables. Processing, in this sense, is more a matter of convenience. You want to actively add these into your diet.

Cereal, milk and yogurt – like they serve in the Hornet’s Nest – are good examples of moderately processed foods. Once again, these shouldn’t be avoided or thought of as “bad,” even though they do contain added ingredients. Dairy products are fortified with vitamin D, mainly because of the synergistic role of vitamin D and calcium to promote good bone health. Cold cereal products are often fortified with several vitamins and minerals, as it’s often the go-to breakfast for children. Moderately processed foods don’t need to be sought out, but assuming a healthy diet, there’s nothing wrong with eating them on a daily basis.

Finally, there are heavily processed foods like salad dressing, cookies and frozen pizzas. They typically contain added sodium, sugar, and fat to enhance the taste and increase the shelf-life. Such foods should not be made a habitual part of your diet.

As you can see, processed foods include more than just Cheetos, and basing your food choices on avoiding them will surely have you running in circles. Some processed foods you should eat every day, while others should be consumed rarely.

Instead of going mad avoiding processed foods, choose foods based on calories, macronutrients (fat, carbs and protein), vitamins/minerals and most importantly, your personal preference.