bite my words

Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving


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Can processed foods be healthy?

Myth 14: Processed foods have no place in a healthy diet.
What Dietitians of Canada says:
“Some processed foods, such as whole grain pasta, canned light tuna and plain frozen vegetables, are healthy choices. Others provide few nutrients and/or are high in calories, fat, sugar or sodium and should be limited. Some examples are deep fried foods, salty snacks and packaged baked goods such as donuts and croissants…”
What I say:
I think the problem here is the lack of consensus on the definition of processed foods. Most foods that we eat are processed in some manner or another, apart from raw whole fruits and vegetables. Cooking, chopping, blending, mashing, etc. are all part of processing food. This is a difficult myth to approach. Many highly processed foods are unhealthy, and the greater the level of processing that a food undergoes the greater the likelihood that nutrients will be lost. Even the process of blending fruit in a smoothie or mashing potatoes breaks down fibre, slightly reducing the benefits you would receive by consuming whole fruit or a baked potato. Prepackaged meals are less likely to be as healthy as meals you’ve prepared yourself, they’re more likely to be laden with extra salt and sugar. Some processing is necessary to make food edible, most grains need to be processed and cooked before you eat them; however, the less processing they’ve undergone the more benefits you’ll reap from them. Take for example oats, steel-cut whole grain oats are a better choice than instant oatmeal. However, if you don’t have a lot of time for breakfast, those (unflavoured) instant oats are still a better choice than a store-bought oatmeal muffin. When buying packaged foods try to choose ones with as few added ingredients as possible. Processing does play an important role in our food system, just try to choose foods in as close to their natural state as possible as often as possible.
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