Should You Stop Eating Processed Food? 5 Things To Keep In Mind

Should You Stop Eating Processed Food? 5 Things To Keep In Mind

1. What is processed food?

Should you stop eating processed foods? This is a question that most of us have asked ourselves at least once in our lifetimes. 

Speaking of processed foods, the thought of the sweets section of the hypermarket certainly comes to mind, and on the back of the label of these sweets we can find more chemical compounds than in the periodic table. 

I doubt that anyone considers sweets to be healthy, but it is a fact - they are bought. I have always set an example with croissants - a favourite food of three generations. 

A few brands I personally checked had a shelf life of 6 to 8 months (and of course, they can still be consumed for at least another three months). Just imagine if we make the same croissant at home - surely on the 7th day it will be so heavy that we have a real chance of killing someone if we drop it. 

This has nothing to do with the perfect looking product in the supermarket, and everything with the answer to the question “should you stop eating processed foods?”.

The term "processed food" has a wide variety of meanings, but by definition it refers to food products that have undergone various mechanical or technological manipulations and which are not consumed in their natural state, i.e. in raw form. 

The purpose of food processing is to extend the shelf life, to improve the taste and quality or to process it into another product, for example cheeses, sour milks or jams.

Food processing itself (as a term rather than an action) dates back to the days of shipping and transporting fish. Then, in order to be stored for a longer time, it was covered with salt and thus preserved edible by salting. And the salting system itself was borrowed from Japan, where it had been practised for many years.

The definition of cooking itself means that food is processed to increase the caloric content and make it safer. Baking, frying, boiling and all other types of cooking are actually processing and preserving food. Are roast beef steak and vegetable soup bad for us? Of course not.

2. What are the 4 categories of processed food?

To help you make the decision on whether you should stop eating processed food or not, let’s take a look at the main categories of processed food:

2.1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods

When we refer to unprocessed foods, we mean the raw ones that we eat as mother nature gave them birth, like most fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs. Any food that can be consumed immediately after harvesting, such as freshly milked milk or a tomato plucked from the garden, is unprocessed. 

But this group also includes foods that have undergone very light processing such as seeds, raw nuts, dried fruits, teas and herbs for infusions, etc. 

All processes, whether mechanical or mechanical, of removing the coverings or scales of the plants or drying processes are defined as mild and not altering the quality of the food. Raw foodists only eat foods from this category.

So, if you are wondering whether to stop eating processed food or not, keep in mind that this is one category that you should absolutely eat.

2.2. Processed culinary ingredients

We could divide this category into two smaller ones. One will include the products that nature gives us in their purest and most natural form, but which we cannot consume without prior processing. 

Examples of such products are salt and sugar. The only way they can be eaten or used in the kitchen as a spice is through elaborate pre-processing. We can't salt our food with sea water, can we? We can call these products "products requiring processing", and processing can include natural evaporation as occurs in salt extraction or diffusion and carbonation as part of sugar extraction processes.

The second group will include products obtained by delicate processing of a natural, raw product. 

These manipulations include pressing or cold pressing and refining to obtain vegetable oils from olive, avocado, sunflower, rapeseed, coconut (unprocessed products suitable for consumption in their natural form); grinding, grinding and spray drying for the production of flour and bran obtained from wheat, barley, corn, oats, etc. (unprocessed products are difficult to consume in raw form).

2.3. Processed foods 

And now, on to one of the main categories that we usually think about when deciding if we should stop eating processed foods.

Every single dish goes through processing processes to become a gastronomic experience. Preparing a three-course family dinner requires a number of manipulations such as boiling, baking, frying, stewing, salting, grilling, freezing, smoking, or whatever we in the household call cooking, science calls food processing, and the definition of it is "processed food ". 

Well, have you begun to convince yourself that the truth has another face?

Let's take for example the preparation of spaghetti with tomato sauce, which is a favourite dish of many children. With them we have the mixing of various processed and unprocessed foods to obtain a dough that is first dried and then boiled. 

The tomatoes are pressed to a puree, preserved with sugar and salt, boiled and/or lightly fried, seasoned and finally served. Eggs, wheat, salt, tomatoes have undergone processing, but does this make the food unhealthy? No, I don't think so.

2.4. Heavily/Ultra Processed food

This category includes all aggressive procedures, treatments with enhancers, colorings, preservatives and flavourings, as well as any type of food processing to semi-finished products. 

This type of processing is used in the food industry to increase the volume of the product produced at the expense of its quality, to lower its base price and/or to increase the consumption of the product, or all three. There are many examples, but we can separate different groups again.

In the first, we will put the hydrogenation of vegetable fats, which hardens the oils by mixing them with various catalysts and hydrogen in the hydrogenation process. Thus, it turns unsaturated fats into trans fats, which scientists call "food plastic".

In another group, we can look at the different types of training to increase the volume of a given product, such as supplements for salamis, cheeses, cheeses, milk, and bakery products. 

In these processes, laboratory developed substances are added to reduce the use of the much more expensive raw material ie. 60% raw material (meat, milk, etc.) plus 40% product substitute.

In the third, we will put food processing in order to increase sales. The big chains figured out how to do it a long time ago, and the people who developed the preservatives, enhancers and flavourings have amassed a solid capital.

All convenience foods, junk food, packaged confectionery, chips, semi-finished pizzas, sodas and instant drinks, sandwiches, etc. belong to this group.

So, should you stop eating processed foods, and which ones exactly? At this point, you are probably starting to answer the question correctly on your own.

3. What are some examples of processed foods?

Drying of the food is probably the oldest and the most popular method of processing. Meat  and fish were being treated with sugar and salt , sometimes with both , in order to occur in osmosis which helps for removing all the moisture. 

Bacteria need moisture to exist and grow – this is something we all know. Smoking is also included in the process of drying of food,  which leads to the top layer of the product being seared. 

Another very common method is drying under the sun – very popular in lots of European countries. This is where all the ham, bacon and all the different types of dried fish are coming from.

Fermentation is a method of preservation of the food with the help of microorganisms. The most common use of fermentation is in the production of alcohol and milk products, where the use of yeast or a special kind of bacteria helps convert sugar in milk acid or alcohol. For example, the bacteria in yoghurt converts the lactose into milk acid.

Pasteurisation of the milk , for instance, is a type of processing, which represents heating of the milk from 60 to 72 degrees for a few seconds, which destroys most of the bacteria, without changing the taste and quality of the product , but increases the expiry period from couple of days to two weeks and even more. 

Centres Of Disease Control and Prevention in the USA  reports that consumption of  raw milk which was not properly stored , is the reason why people are getting in hospital, three times more than any other food.

Homogenization is a process that is applied to all dairy products. The purpose of this processing is to mix all the components of a product, as in the case of milk we are talking about the water and fat in it. 

The process itself is carried out by pressing the milk through a very fine nozzle and under high pressure, which manages to mix the components and turn them into a homogeneous mixture. 

The process itself makes the milk taste fuller and the texture thicker. Homogenised yoghurt, for example, does not have cream and water sediment, but it has absolutely preserved and enriched qualities at the expense of non-homogenized yoghurt, which is richest on the surface and poorest in the water sediment below.

And now, on to the question…should you stop eating processed foods?

4. Are processed foods bad for you? 5 Things To Keep In Mind

4.1. Don’t cut processed foods altogether; moderation is key

There is no way to completely stop eating processed foods, not if you understand the true definition of the term "processed food." 

Of course, it is possible to reduce them to an incredible minimum and become a raw foodist, but this is far beyond any balanced lifestyle, and the territory in which you live may not allow it. 

On the other hand, it would be unhealthy to consume entirely unprocessed food, because in doing so you would be depriving yourself of a wide variety of nutrients that are present in processed foods.

Create your own balance by determining a day of the week when you allow yourself to consume ultra-processed foods, or as they are known, "junk" foods. A large number of fitness enthusiasts have such a day, and it is even considered necessary to recharge the body with calories to bring the metabolism back to the starting line. 

This day is known as "dirty" or “cheat” day.

Another thing you can do is to limit yourself for a certain period after days in which you ate a lot of goodies. On the day of the holiday, I will eat everything (in moderation!), and then for two weeks I will avoid this type of food. Try it!

4.2. Make your own, healthy versions of processed foods

Another tip that we can follow if we are lovers of the last category of processed foods is to prepare our version of the favourite food by replacing some of the ingredients in it with a healthier alternative or by simply preparing them at home. 

You can see some of my ideas for transforming our favourite foods and drinks on the Instagram page.

The truth is, a healthy alternative doesn't have to be a diet. Use eggs, olive oil, butter, sugar, salt, but be careful when buying them from the store. This is especially true for meat and dairy products. 

The difference between healthy food and diet/low-calorie food is very big, but we will not talk about it in this article. Our healthy alternative will exclude all preservatives, enhancers and colours from the product and raise the nutritional value of the food many times over.

So, there is no need to completely stop eating processed foods - you can balance things out by making your own, healthy versions of them. 

4.3. Don’t get tricked by Marketing gimmicks

Every trader wants to sell their goods, and there is nothing wrong with that. Marketing gimmicks help marketers sell their products in the best possible way, but in many cases they save a lot of information by betting on fashion trends.

Fashion trends are not only in the world of fashion, they are everywhere and the nutrition and food industry is not unaffected by them. "Sugar is bad!". And suddenly everything has to be sugar free and we start buying every product that says sugar free on the packaging. 

And it is exactly these fashion trends that marketing departments rely on. They start to bombard us with advertisements and colourful packaging and everywhere we see a sugar-free label. you know how much more harmful many sugar substitutes can be?

And how much of them is added to your dessert? Just because it doesn't have white sugar doesn't mean it's sugar free. Just because it's gluten-free doesn't mean it's lower in calories.

Read the label before deciding whether the product is as healthy as it is made out to be and be well informed so you don't fall prey to ridiculous trends.

4.4. Supplement processed foods with fresh foods

Don’t stop eating processed foods altogether; instead, supplement them with fresh foods.

The best way is to consume a moderate amount of processed food and a moderate amount of unprocessed food ie. fresh food. And here I mean the cooked food, not the junk foods we talked about earlier in the article. Depending on the geographical location and the duration of the seasons, we can create a balanced menu.

What do I mean by geographical location? In places with very high or very low temperatures such as Africa, Antarctica and Siberia, fresh food is significantly less and their diet consists mostly of processed foods, but their bodies also function differently to maintain their thermoregulation.

On the other hand, the inhabitants of the rest of the world benefit from a variety of food products and have the opportunity to determine their own eating habits.

During the cold months, as a rule, we consume more cooked meals, pasta, preserves and less salads and fruits. And during the warm seasons, the opposite happens - more fresh, unprocessed foods and less processed.

4.5. Plan your meals ahead

To reduce the consumption of processed foods from the latter category, you can plan your meals in advance and prepare them the night before. In this way, you will ensure a complete meal for you and your loved ones, and you will not be tempted to buy something from the supermarket stand on your lunch break just because you are hungry. 

When it becomes a habit like getting up in the morning, organising your agenda or preparing for sports, you will notice not only that you have become more organised in general, but that you look much healthier, and you save money that you can spend for higher quality products.

An easy way to organise meals that I apply to myself and the students in "Change Your Habits!" is at the end of the week to draw up a menu for the following week, then optimise it into a shopping list and check that it meets our planned budget for the week and that there is no excess food. 

After we have shopped, we make a light preparation for the planned breakfasts, lunches, dinners and afternoon meals, if there are any, and finally every day we prepare what is planned for the next day, for example, I set aside two eggs, half an avocado and a slice of whole wheat bread, which I will prepare for breakfast. so that it is warm and delicious.

So, planning your meals ahead will help you live a balanced lifestyle without having to stop eating processed foods completely.

5. So…should you stop eating processed food? Conclusion

The idea for this article came after my participation in a conversation about the quality of a certain dairy product and the uninformed part of the participants about the processing processes and their impact on the food.

Do we actually know what "processed food" is and that to a large extent food processing is necessary to bring a higher quality product to us or for easier consumption. The flour for our pancakes this morning is "processed" spelled.

Nowadays, the term "processed food" is used to refer to "junk" food. Yes, there are many manipulations by which the quality of the food is reduced to increase the shelf life, which is done because "the growing population of the world needs to be fed", but I think this is another delusion that helps the manufacturers to apologise to themselves. 

The result: in the supermarket we have shelves full of processed foods that have almost no nutritional value and contain huge amounts of fat, sugar and salt, and we see more and more people on the streets with a range of allergies, intolerances, weight problems or diseases. Choice?

But not all processed food is bad for us, so don’t stop eating processed food altogether. The fact is that most of the food processing methods originated many, many years ago, created by our ancestors long before the invention of the refrigerator, the purpose of which was the easier storage and transportation of food, which still exists today. 

I hope you have found the difference between the various definitions.