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Getting Smart About Processed Foods

By Sara Butler

Processed foods aren’t the source of all evil they’ve been made out to be. Sure, that package of macaroni and cheese contains more ingredients with names you’ve never heard of than ingredients familiar to you, but not all processed foods come in a box. When it comes to processed foods, it’s not the all-or-nothing proposition you may have been led to believe it is. You simply need the know-how to make your own smart choices.

Processed Foods are not All Created Equal

The definition of a processed food is simply a food that has been altered from its original state in order to enhance flavor, extend shelf life, or enhance appearance or texture for the consumer. So, by that definition, freezing, canning, cooking, drying, smoking, baking, and fermenting are all ways a food can be processed -- and those aren’t necessarily all bad things. It’s the degree to which a food has been processed that impacts its nutritional value.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, there are three levels of processing for foods. They are:

  • Minimally processed – This category includes foods that have no change in their nutritional value, such whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
  • Processed – These are ingredients in foods that are processed such as sugar, oils, salt, and butter
  • Ultra-processed – These foods have many manufactured ingredients such as sweeteners, preservatives, artificial colors, and artificial flavors

Some processed foods, such as bagged leafy greens, are great for your health, while others aren’t. It’s the ultra-processed foods such as frozen dinners, packaged cereals, breads, chips, candy, soup, and baked goods that have given processing a bad name. That’s because the ultra-processed foods have been stripped of their nutrients and are often stuffed full of other processed ingredients, such as sugar.

What to Look For

When you go shopping, you simply need to take a look at the ingredients on the food package. Some chemicals contained in food products are perfectly safe, while others are potentially harmful to your health and wellness. Be on the lookout for anything that contains:

  • Nitrates and nitrites
  • Trans fats or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • Sulfites
  • BHA
  • BHT
  • Artificial foods dyes
  • Potassium bromate
  • Mycoprotein
  • Olestra

Educating yourself about how your food is made is a step toward a healthier diet and lifestyle. When you know what you must watch out for, then you’ll make better choices that will keep you moving in the right direction.

To learn more about your health, wellness, and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Mission Viejo, Calif.


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