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!