What is processed food? This question has come up more than a few times over the past couple of weeks. Processed Food (along with Hydrogenated Oils) is the number one item everyone is asked to eliminate on the Eat Healthy Challenge.
“Does this include all packaged foods?” my friend Mark asked frowning. “Do my brown rice crackers and veggie burgers fall into the processed foods category? I sure hope not, because I can’t make it without them.”
A distinction is in order. Some foods, like Mark’s tasty brown rice crackers and particular brand of veggie burgers, are healthy commercially prepared, convenience foods. The evidence is in the ingredients. In order to understand the difference between a healthy packaged food and a processed food, we must read labels.
What we want to avoid are food products that have been chemically treated or stripped of nutrients. Examples of chemicals added to foods are; aspartame, MSG, nitrites, nitrates, colors (e.g. red dye #40, blue #2, green #3), BHA, acetasulfame potassium, artificial flavor, added sulfites and so on.
Examples of foods that have been altered include; white sugar, white flour, white rice, and salt (use sea salt). These foods have been stripped of vitamins and minerals. Therefore, vitamins and minerals must be stolen from the body to metabolize them effectively. A food is whole when it has all its parts. White flour and white rice are not whole foods given the fiber—bran and germ—has been removed.
“So I can eat my store-bought hummus and canned soups?” Mark asked again without waiting for me to answer. “I realize in a perfect world, it would be better for me to make all my own food from scratch, but I just don’t have the time. I cook way more often while on the Eat Healthy Challenge, but there’s no way I’m going to bake my own bread or make my own pasta noodles.”
“That’s great,” I said. “Buy whole grain bread and use whole wheat, kamut or brown rice noodles. Just read labels and make sure the ingredients in your packaged products are whole foods without added chemicals.”