What is Processed Food and How to Recognise It

One of the biggest problems with the typical Western diet is the fact that a lot of our food is refined, or highly processed. Processed food is stripped of important nutrients like fiber, iron and B vitamins, and this is done by food manufactures for two reasons.

Good-Looking & Long-Term Relationship


First reason is to give the food product a softer texture and attractive look.

Second, to extend the shelf life of the product.

According to Maya Adam, Director of Health Education Outreach at Stanford’s Center for Health Education: “Heavily processed food is going to last longer on the supermarket shelf because pests, like mold for example, are less attracted to foods that are low in nutrients. In fact, the nutrient content of any given food is directly related to the spoil rate of that food. Foods that are very low in nutrients spoil much more slowly than foods that are rich in nutrients. ”

 

A hamburger that’s highly processed will spoil much more slowly than a hamburger made at home with mostly natural ingredients.

processed food spoils slower
Homemade burger will spoil sooner than processed because it is higher in nutrients.

 

The question is, if highly processed food is so low in nutrients that the pests don’t even want to eat it,

how healthy can it be for us?

 

 

Why is Processed Food Less Healthy


One of the best ways to maintain a healthy diet is to ask yourself: “Was it cooked by a human being or a large corporation?”

And the reason behind this is that big companies preparing our food tend to cook in a certain way that isn’t very healthy and beneficial for us.

They tend to use way too much salt, fat, and sugar, all of which are problematic nutrients for our health. On top of that, they tend to use the cheapest possible raw ingredients.

Food preparation is a multi billion dollar business, an Industry. Their business model is to start with a cheap food and process it as much as possible, make it attractive with salt, fat and sugar. And long shelf life because it’s not profitable to stock supermarkets with products that have short shelf life, just to restock them again and again because they haven’t been sold in time.

Shelf life of processed foods
Processed food was designed to have long shelf life.

My Quick Tip: when buying bottled water, buy water that is still (natural) and non-infused.

How Infused water became a thing.

If you’re old enough you can remember that 20 or 30 years ago there was no infused water. With time and progression of Food Processing Industry, we started to see lemon, orange, strawberry etc. infused bottled water.

On one of our University field trips we went to a bottling manufacturer where they explained: “First step of our production is to bottle still, natural water that we send to supermarkets. If and when the water is not sold by expiry date, the water is sent back to our facilities.

Our second step is to infuse it with flavors, to overcome any possible stale or in any way unattractive taste. We send this infused water back to the supermarkets. A certain percentage of still water that comes back to our facilities would go through process of adding gas to it, making it sparkling water as well. However, our statistics show infused water is in higher demand.”

Flavored water is expired natural water,

sent back to supermarket shelves with added flavors.

How to Quickly Recognize Processed Food


The best way is to start reading ingredients label at the back of a product packaging. One way to tell if food is hyper-processed is to look at the number of ingredients listed on the packaging. Food that contains fewer ingredients is almost certainly less processed.

Ingredients labels
Ingredients label of highly processed bread and unprocessed yogurt.

 

Another sign of processed food is, if we can recognize the ingredients listed, this almost always means the food is less processed than foods containing ingredients that the average person has never heard of.

And remember, foods that don’t come with ingredient lists, like fruits and vegetables, are usually the best choices of all.

How to Improve my Diet and Avoid Processed Food?


To eat healthier and better we should first talk about the nutrient density of the food.

To simplify, the nutrient density of food is the amount of nutritional value, including vitamins, minerals, and fiber, divided by the calories, or energy content, of that food.

Nutrient Density

For example, a glass of soda is high in calories without providing much or any nutritional value.

Foods that provide lots of calories with very little nutritional value are sometimes called energy dense foods, but their nutrient density is low.

A bunch of fresh spinach, on the other hand, would be an example of a nutrient dense food because its nutritional value is relatively high compared to its caloric content. (Source: Maya Adam)

 

When people talk about fast food being cheaper than fresh food, they’re often referring to the fact that the cost per calorie of highly processed food is lower than that of fresh, whole food.

 

Navigate Your Way


Processed foods are made by big companies and not by a human. They are very low in nutrition in order to have very long shelf life.

To spot highly processed food you should look at the ingredients label. Processed food have usually long and complicated list of ingredients while less processed products have short and easy to understand ingredients.

 

When people say fast food is cheaper than fresh food, they’re often referring to the fact that the cost per calorie of highly processed food is lower than that of fresh, whole food.

Nutritional density of the food is important to your body. While you may feel full eating processed foods, your body is being starved because it doesn’t get the nutrient it need to function. This is why health issues such as Diabetes, obesity, allergies, cancer, etc. are on the rise.

Obesity and Diabetes is USA
Diseases such as Diabetes and Obesity are linked to consumption of processed food.

 

 

I hope you found the information you were looking for. I will be writing more on this topic, so stay around.

If you have any questions, doubts or want to share your experience write a comment. I would love to hear your point of view!

 

Till next time,

Katya

3 thoughts on “What is Processed Food and How to Recognise It”

  1. I try and live a clean and healthy lifestyle with no processed food. I will never forget the day my dad taught me about food and health, he used to always say “don’t buy anything with numbers and read the ingredients, less is more”, I actually live by this now and get everything fresh out of the garden. I like your idea of asking yourself whether it was cooked by a human being or a large cooperation, great points here!! Thanks for the read, very informative and important to our health!!

    Reply
    • Hi Juvette, your dad is right and it is so important that parents teach their children about food they eat and include them in cooking tasks and food prep.

      Keep doing what you’re doing 🙂

      Best,

      Katya 

      Reply
  2. This is an eye opener. The question you posed was awakening. Even pest do not want to eat something so low in nutrients. Thanks to your tips, next time I go shopping I’ll carefully go over the ingredients label to minimise purchase of over processed food. I found this article interesting to read and very helpful. Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply

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