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How bad is processed foods?

Eating Well During Quarantaine:

Eating healthy has never been more important. But for those of

us with a pantry full of processed foods, how do we make sure

what we are eating is healthy?

As the world hunkers down during the corona virus pandemic,

many of us are cooking at home more than ever before. The task

of cooking several meals per day for the entire family during

quarantaine can be daunting and exhausting. It can be easy to

fall into a routine of constant snacking or cooking comfort foods

to pass the time.

By making healthy eating and exercise a priority, we can make a

positive impact on both our physical and mental health. For

those of us with a pantry full of processed foods, how do we

make sure what we are eating is healthy?

When it comes to deciding what we should consume more or

less of, it’s always best to stick with science.

What are processed foods?

The term “processed food” brings up a negative reaction for

most people. Processed food gets blamed for a number of

chronic health conditions such as pre-diabetes / type 2

diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, allergies, and some

cancers. While there is no question that some processed foods

are not the best choice, not all processed food is bad.

The technical definition of processed food is quite broad: any

food product that has undergone a mechanical or chemical

transformation from the raw form to extend shelf-life, improve

taste, or fortify with added nutrients. With such a broad

definition, it’s no wonder why there is confusion.

Minimally processed foods:

Bagged spinach and salads, pre-cut vegetables, or bags of pre-

shelled nuts all qualify as ‘processed’ even though they are

healthy. Reduced-fat milk is considered processed because it is

pasteurized and fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Nutritious

and fiber-rich whole-grain cereal or bread that has vitamins and

minerals added are all processed. Beans, tuna, and frozen or

canned fruits and vegetables are all processed. Even though

canned beans, vegetables, and soups typically have added

sodium (which is used as a preservative and taste stabilizer),

they are still generally healthy (fiber). If you are watching your

sodium intake, simply rinse canned beans and vegetables to

reduce the sodium content.

While the examples above are considered minimally processed,

there is another side to this story.

Heavily processed foods are the ones we need to avoid or consume

only in small quantities.

Heavily processed foods.

Most heavily processed foods often contain added sugars,

sodium and nitrites. These foods are often found in the center of

the grocery store amid all of the boxes and bags of chips,

cookies, crackers, donuts, cereals, boxed meals, and other

pantry staples. These foods are often low in fiber and lacking in

key nutrients, another disadvantage of consuming a diet with

excessive amounts of highly processed foods.

Packaged meats such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, pepperoni,

bologna, pastrami, and smoked meats are also heavily

processed and should be consumed sparingly. Not only are

these meats full of sodium and saturated fat, but they also

produce chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCA) when

cooked at high temperatures. HCAs have been linked to

increased cancer risk in a number of animal studies. The nitrates

in these meats can be converted to nitrosamines, which are also

carcinogenic according to the American Cancer Society.

The take-home message is that it’s not all bad or necessary to remove all

processed foods from your diet. In fact, an increased intake of whole

grains, fruits, vegetables, beans (processed or not) and fresh,

lean meats are strongly associated with a decreased risk of

cardiovascular disease and cancer.

If good health is your goal, then cutting back on heavily

processed or smoked meats and snack foods is a very good idea.

Don’t forget exercise

Daily physical activity is also very important during this difficult

time. Staying active can have a very positive impact on our mental

health. It’s perfectly okay to take a daily brisk walk or a bike ride

around your neighborhood – just remember to keep practicing

social distancing of at least six feet. We have stimulating ideas,

as well as lots of information on at-home exercises that require little

to no equipment. If you enjoyed our free online classes in April please

share a comment.

Our bodies are built to move!


Uwe Wendel

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