Which of the foods in the picture is a processed food? TRICK QUESTION!! All of them are. I’ve posted before about how we need to be more specific in defining the term “processed food”. Almost everything we eat is processed. Some of that processing is good, since it makes food safer to eat, such as pasteurizing milk or cooking meat. Or making wheat into flour into bread can be a good kind of processing, depending on what is done to preserve nutritional quality.
I read about an interesting study that looked at purchases of processed foods (for an abstract of the actual study, click here). The authors used data from more than 100,000 Americans who barcode scan their grocery purchases. They categorized the foods purchased into varying degrees of processing – minimally, basic, moderately, and highly processed. Unfortunately, more than 60% of purchases in the study were shown to be highly processed foods. Also discouraging, when looking at the nutritional impact of these purchases, most of these foods were high in saturated fat, sodium, and sugar.
Clearly, we have some work to do as Americans. We should skip that frozen lasagna and instead buy some noodles, canned tomatoes, and low-fat mozzarella cheese on our own. Then we can control the salt and fat levels in our foods. We should eat less convenience and ready-to-eat foods. Cooking doesn’t have to take a long time, as shown by many of the recipes on this site – BELT sandwich, Black Beans and Rice, Cauliflower Quesadillas, Polenta with Sausage Ragu, Tilapia with Tomatoes and Green Beans, and many more.
One limitation to the study is that the data is limited to foods that have a barcode. Most fresh produce doesn’t have a barcode. So the proportion of purchases going to fresh produce isn’t accounted for. This could mean that our diets aren’t so bad. But the take home message remains that we should decrease the level of processing in the foods that we buy.
Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!