Processed foods have a bad rap. In today’s modern landscape where almost everyone is focused on healthy diets and clean eating, health agencies and news media constantly spread the news about how damaging processed foods can be to us, and that we should avoid them at all costs.
So what exactly are processed foods, and why are they so bad for us? The word ‘processed’ refers to performing a series of mechanical or chemical procedures on something in order to change or preserve it. For most processed foods, this is exactly the case — food that has been preserved through machine-driven techniques or the addition of chemicals. Some examples would be meats like bacon and burger patties, snacks like potato chips and candy, and dry foods like cereals and instant noodles.
However, that’s not all that processed foods are. The general term for ‘processed foods’ applies to any food that was altered from its natural state in any way. This means any food you buy at the grocery store that looks different from how it looked when it was harvested can be considered to be a processed food. With this idea in mind, what if I told you there are some processed foods that can be healthy for us?
The Few Good Ones
Not all processed foods are created equally. There is a spectrum that classifies the amount of processing that happens to all foods. On one end, you have your highly processed foods — the ones that look nothing like their original form, and most of these are considered unhealthy for you. The addition of preservatives to extend the shelf life of these products means they are full of excess sodium and sugar. There are a few exceptions though, like canned fish — sardines and tuna can be good for you, with plenty of helpful nutrients available.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are foods that have been minimally processed. These are foods that still resemble their original state, with a few alterations that make them look different. The reason for this is mainly a matter of convenience — for example, fresh vegetables that were chopped up and sealed into airtight packages are considered to be a minimally processed food, and they are typically purchased by people who want to save time on preparing meals. In fact, many minimally processed foods can be good for you.
Here are some processed foods that can actually be an asset to your health.
This crunchy and sour food is made from chopped raw cabbage through a process called pickling. This is a fermentation method that not only prevents the cabbage from spoiling, but also gives it many health benefits. Probiotics are plentiful in sauerkraut, and it can greatly help with your digestive health. Being a vegetable-based food, sauerkraut is also full of dietary fibre, and also contain essential nutrients such as vitamin A and vitamin C. Regular consumption of sauerkraut is also known to boost the immune system, thanks to the abundance of antioxidants. Best of all, it’s easy enough to make on your own — all you need is some cabbage, salt, and an airtight jar.
A popular dairy product, yoghurt is made by fermenting milk. By adding certain bacteria known as yoghurt cultures, the lactose in milk breaks down and produces lactic acid and it causes the milk to curdle, which turns the liquid milk into the soft solid yoghurt texture. Similar to sauerkraut, the fermentation process turns yoghurt into a nutritious food source — protein, essential B vitamins, calcium, and probiotics can all be found in this silky soft treat. When you’re shopping for yoghurt at the grocery store, look for those with less than 12 grams of sugar per serving, and stay away from the artificially flavoured varieties.
Frozen vegetables are not so different from their fresher counterparts. Created more for convenience’s sake, these veggies are usually cut into bite-sized pieces and kept frozen until it’s time to cook. Many think that frozen vegetables are not as nutrient-packed as fresh produce, but they’re wrong. Vegetables that designated to be frozen are harvested while they are at peak freshness and immediately frozen after — this locks in all the nutrients and keeps them in much longer than fresh vegetables. If you’re trying to lose some weight but don’t have time to prepare meals, frozen veggies will save you quite a bit of time, so you’ll be able to eat healthily and achieve your goals.
Chocolate lovers, rejoice! Chocolate can be good for you, but not just any type of chocolate — only dark chocolate. Rich in flavonoids, consuming dark chocolate has been known to reduce bad cholesterol levels, and it can even bring down your blood pressure. Studies have also shown that eating chocolate can also increase the production of serotonin, which is a chemical released in the brain that makes us feel good and lifts our mood. Be sure to read the label and look for dark chocolate that is at least 70 per cent cacao.
Lastly, canned tuna is another processed food that can be good for you. It is a good source of protein, and it is also relatively inexpensive to purchase. Before you buy, look for tuna chunks or tuna flakes instead of tuna spread — the former are less processed and have less added sugars and preservatives compared to the spread. With tuna, your body will get a healthy dose of omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your brain and help with overall growth and development.