A buzz word going around right now in the food world is “processed”. We all have heard to avoid processed foods if we want to be healthy. The ideal diet according to mainstream sources is a diet that is high in fruits, veggies, good fats, and whole grains and low in processed foods.
Now for the million-dollar-question: What is processed food?
What pops into your head?
I asked my husband this and he came up with things like:
White flour bread,
Biscuits in a tube,
Cheese singles in plastic wrapping,
Processing goes way beyond these pseudo-foods to things that you wouldn’t have even associated with the word “processed”.
Any product that goes through any type of process is technically a processed food. Unless you are eating a diet of only whole, raw foods you are eating processed foods. Common sense, right? That means that anything boiled, fried, cooked, homogenized, preserved, baked, ground, dried, soaked, etc.
So my husband says “Basically you are telling me that everything is processed” ( insert angry husband face here.)
And I said, “uh . . . yeah, . . . I guess your are right. Unless it is fresh and raw it has gone through some type of processing.”
Then I realized that there really aren’t any guidelines when it comes to the “no processed foods” rule, so how do you know what to eat?
Some of these processes don’t damage the nutrition at all, some can actually make your food more nutritious or easier to digest, (like soaking and sprouting), and others can turn healthy food into nutritionless lumps. Those lumps of pseudo-food are the ones we want to avoid. Like the ones listed above.
A much better way to go about the whole “no processed foods” idea is going with the idea of less processing=better.
Think of it this way: A green bean grows in the garden, soaking nutrients from the soil and miraculously turning energy from the sun into food. It is growing, thriving, and full of life! Then you pick the green bean, wash it, and it is ready to be eaten. All of that life and energy is still inside that little bean package. Eaten raw the bean is full of vitamins and minerals from the garden, enzymes, and beneficial bacteria. Or you can cook them (process them) lightly and still get almost all of the vitamins and minerals but you miss out on the enzymes and bacteria. Or, if you are a home canner or if you buy your green beans in cans at the grocery store, the green beans will be pressure boiled (to kill off any pathogens) in an aluminum can lined with plastic or a glass jar with plenty of added salt. This is a major process that depletes the green beans of much of their vitamins and minerals, and completely kills off any beneficial bacteria and enzymes. What you have left looks kind of like a green bean but the life and energy have been boiled out of it and it is nothing like the living bean that grew in your garden. And the canned green bean needs the salt to enhance the flavor because most of the fresh, crisp, sweet flavor of the bean has been boiled away.
Now think about the processes that milk has to go through to become the block of processed cheese that never molds, or that box of “whole grain” cereal that looks nothing like the original grains it came from. Most processed foods contain preservatives to help keep some of the flavor so they don’t taste like cardboard, and food coloring so they look fresh and bright, and to get you to buy them they add vitamins and minerals back into them artificially. These vitamins aren’t the same as what you would get naturally and they only add the ones that will look good on the package label. Always check your labels on anything that you are buying from a can, box, tube, or bottle. If there is anything on the label that you can’t pronounce or you have no idea what it is, DON’T EAT IT!
If it needs to be enhanced with MSG, food coloring, or preservatives then it has gone through enough processing that it doesn’t naturally taste like real food without all of the nasty additives. There is so much research popping up about food additives contributing to everything from Hyperactivity to Cancer.
This is especially important for kids! They are much more sensitive to the effects of food additives. HERE is a whole list of articles on the effect of artificial food dyes.
If you have a child who is sensitive, hyperactive, overweight or obese, or having trouble concentrating in school or at home, I think it would be a good idea to start with removing processed foods with any type of additives, especially food coloring. I am not a doctor but I know from mommy experience and research that my kids are more focused and less hyperactive when I am diligent in keeping the processed foods out of our home.
I have one son who is 4 and although he has never been diagnosed with any neuro disorder he is extremely sensitive to his surroundings. He tends to cry and whine much more often than my other 2 kids and he has a hard time watching anything even remotely “scary” on TV. He hates to watch Curious George because there are some parts in it that scare him enough that he will hide his head in the couch and whine and then run to his bedroom. When I make it a priority to keep him off of processed food and any artificial food coloring he is so much more calm and relaxed. I still limit TV time for all of my kids but when he is eating a nutritious diet with no additives he can handle his favorite shows and even Curious George much better.
Turn your cans, boxes, bottles, and tubes around and see what you are REALLY eating for lunch today. If there is no label, that’s even better. Keep it as fresh as possible :)