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What Are Processed Foods?

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Most of the food we consume has been processed in some way or another. Whole foods, such as fresh vegetables and fruits, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, have likely been cleaned, trimmed, shelled, husked, ground, or wrapped and this is a type of processing.  

Processed food is any food that has been altered in some way during preparation.

The real question you want to ask is, how has the food you eat been processed? The answer is pretty simple, it is one of two options. There is mechanical processing and then there is chemical processing:

Mechanical processing includes food that has been peeled, cored and/ or cooked, this is a more natural processing method.

Chemical processing is when anything is added to the single ingredient food, for example, sugar, artificial flavours, colourants, etc.)

Processed food can fall on a vast spectrum from minimally to heavily processed.  

Minimally Processed Food

Minimally processed foods only have minor changes made to their natural state, this includes processing such as washing and peeling. A few examples of this are the following:

  • bagged spinach
  • cut vegetables
  • roasted nuts

A few types of foods that have been processed at their peak in order to lock in the nutritional quality and freshness are foods such as:

  • canned tomatoes
  • frozen fruit and vegetables
  • canned tuna

Chemical Processed Foods

Chemical processed foods that have extra ingredients added to them, such as sweeteners, spices, oils, colourants, and preservatives are usually added for flavour and texture. These foods will usually contain no more than 3 ingredients. Some examples of these are:

  •  jarred pasta sauce
  • salad dressing
  • yoghurt
  • cake mixes

Heavily processed (chemically processed), foods are:

  •   deli meats and all pre-made meals including frozen pizza and microwaveable dinners.

Last but not least you get food that has been ultra-processed, these consist of food-like products that will have been made in a laboratory. They contain chemicals that make the food look, taste, and smell like real food, but it is not real food in the least. Here are some examples of these:

  •  ice cream
  • soda
  • candy
  • breakfast cereal
  • soups

Chemical Processing Is Harmful

So when we at Wholesome food talk about processed foods we are talking about the harmful Chemically processed foods and not Mechanical processing. (If it’s a single ingredient food with no added chemicals, then it doesn’t matter if it’s been ground or put into a jar, it is still real food.)

Chemically processed foods have been made by adding hormones, additives, preservatives, unnatural genetic material and/ or other chemical or heat treatments that alter or destroy the natural healthy enzymes, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals in the food, at its natural organic state.

Processed foods are foods that have been stripped of their nutrients and they are then pumped with loads of preservatives, food dyes, and other unhealthy ingredients like sugars, fats, and other fillers. When we consume processed foods not only are we losing most of the nutrients that food naturally has in it, we are also getting many additives and hormones into our bodies that are not natural and that are essentially toxic to our bodies.  These foods are also way higher in unneeded calories that can lead to serious weight gain and various other health problems.

What Counts As Processed Food?

  • White Wheat flour (breads, baked goods and pastries)
  • Hydrogenated vegetable fats
  • Refined sugar (cane sugar, crystalline fructose, maltodextrin, dextrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, brown rice syrup, corn sugar, agave syrup, etc..)
  • Refined vegetable oils (Canola, soybean safflower and sunflower)
  • Fast Foods
  • Boxed foods  (Breakfast cereals, pastas, mixes)
  • Frozen foods (fish sticks, pizza, tv meals)
  • Cheese
  • Tinned vegetables
  • Margarine
  • Soy products (soy milk, soy cheese, soy protein isolate, and other processed soy foods.)
  • Powdered milk and eggs
  • Savoury snacks (crisps, sausage rolls, pies, and pasties)  
  • Meat products (bacon, sausage, ham, salami, and paté)
  • Convenience foods (microwave meals or ready meals)
  • Drinks, (fruit juices, soft drinks, mixer drinks)·       
  • Many “diet” “low-fat” foods

In our next blog we will unpack why processed foods are so bad for us. We will also list a few that you should look out for and avoid! To receive these blogs in your mailbox every month, sign up using your email address on the website!