Processed Food: Dangerous or totally fine in moderation?
You have heard warnings about processed food and the dangers of preservatives. Processed food is villianised by health-boffs and, in some cases, for a good reason.
The modern food industry can process all types of food. The only difference between buying processed or fresh is the preparation – and the longevity of the item. Therefore, these foods are not just microwave meals or ready meals.
According to the NHS, not all processed foods are unhealthy. However, some processed food may have high salt, sugar, and fat levels to up the appeal, flavour, and preservation time.
Common processed foods include:
- breakfast cereals,
- tinned vegetables,
- savoury snacks and more.
Meat products are also on the list:
- salami and ham.
In addition, cakes, biscuits and certain drinks are examples of processed foods.
Sometimes processing food makes them safer. For example, we need to pasteurise milk to remove harmful bacteria. Oil is processed food. Pressing seeds is a processing method that makes oil suitable for usage.
What makes some processed foods less healthy?
As mentioned above, additives like salt, sugar and fat make processed foods unhealthy. Additives make the food more appealing and extend its shelf life. But, it’s a common fact that these affect blood sugar and cause weight gain and heart disease in large amounts.
Remain within the daily recommendation for salt, sugar and fat consumption. The foods can be higher in calories. However, processed foods may lead you to eat more than recommended.
Processed foods in a healthy diet
You may not have control over the amount of salt, sugar and fat in processed food. However, you can control what you buy.
Read the nutrition labels of processed products. The labels will help you keep an eye on the fat, salt and sugar content. The nutrition information can be found on the front, back or side of the packaging.
Positives of processed food
Processed food helps you access more nutrient-dense foods. For example, fortified milk and juices contain extra calcium, and vitamin D. Manufacturers pack added fibre into breakfast cereals. Canned fruit – packed in water or juice – is a good option if fresh fruit is unavailable. Pre-cut and pre-washed vegetables, such as spinach, are quality convenient if you are a busy person.
Food processing allows us to eat a larger variety of foods than our ancestors, explains Future Learn. We can preserve and package foods safely, and we can transport foods from across the globe to our homes. We are not restricted to locally produced goods or seasonality, greatly extending food availability and accessibility for the great majority living in urban environments.
Because food science allows us to understand how and why foods lose quality during storage, we can select conditions that greatly extend storage times while maintaining freshness. For example, farmers harvest apples over a two- or three-month period yet are available year-round. Why? Once harvested, they can rapidly transfer the apples into controlled atmosphere storage, which slows their respiration.
Processed foods to avoid
Bacon is high in sodium and saturated fat. Sodium can lead to high blood pressure. Saturated fat is linked to heart disease and obesity. Store-bought bacon contains preservatives. The preservatives may cause headaches, ill-health and even cancer.
Granola bars are known as cereal bars. They are full of grains but also added sugars. The added sugars digest quickly and don’t satisfy your hunger for long. Avoid Granola bars because of the high amount of carbohydrates.
Maple-flavoured, wasabi-dusted and toffee-coated, flavoured nuts contain a high amount of extra salt and sugar. Excess salt and sugar can result in weight gain, diabetes and high blood pressure. Sticky and sugary flavoured nuts can also cause unhealthy teeth.
Generally, there is nothing wrong with popcorn. The problem with microwave popcorn is in the actual bag. Perfluoroalkyl is a class of chemical found in microwave popcorn bags. Some studies have linked the chemical to impaired kidney function and poor semen quality.
Many consider margarine the healthy alternative to butter. However, some margarine contains trans fats. Trans fats are unhealthier than other fats. It increases bad cholesterol, which can lead to heart disease or a stroke.
A dollop of tomato sauce for your food is okay. It becomes problematic when slathered onto your meal. The tomatoes in tomato sauce are diluted with sugar and salt. It has a meagre nutritional value.
Frozen dinners are similar to takeout meals. It contains protein, vegetables and starch. Classic frozen dinners contain sugars, fat and sodium too. They can raise your blood pressure. Try to choose organic or low-sodium versions of frozen meals.
All things in moderation
Fatty, sugary or salty foods shouldn’t be more than 20% of your daily food intake. Healthier processed food choices include canned fish, frozen fruits and vegetables, and low-sodium canned beans.
Processed foods have been around for a long time. They are convenient. Enjoy in moderation. Check the nutrition labels. Try to make fresh, simple ingredients the focus of your diet.
You are what you eat!
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