I’m pretty sure most of us are familiar with processed foods, in fact, most of the foods that we consume are processed to some degree. Most foods are altered or laced with some kind of chemical ingredient. Processed foods have been notorious for causing certain diseases and health conditions such as cancer and obesity, but this isn’t always the case; not all processed foods are bad.
Types of Processed Foods
Foods are essentially processed in three ways: primary, secondary and tertiary food processing. For instance, primary food processing is usually comprised of transforming raw agricultural products into foods that are edible. These include shelling nuts and even cutting up meat for commercial consumption. Secondary food processing involves making everyday foods from ready-to-eat ingredients such as baking bread. Lastly, tertiary food processing comprises of the commercial production food that is ready to eat, these also include junk foods and foods that can be eaten after it is heated up.
Meat products such as bacon, ham, sausages, and other processed foods including breakfast cereals, cakes, bread, soft drinks, biscuits and other ready-to-eat meals are some of the typical examples of processed foods. Additionally, seed oils are pressed and extracted before they can be used and milk also goes through a purification process before being sold to the masses to eliminate impurities.
Common Methods of Food Processing
There are essentially seven methods of food processing. These include canning, freezing, fermentation, modified atmosphere packaging, smoking, pasteurisation and additives. Canning is the process of heating food and then storing them in airtight containers. Whereas fermentation usually involves the breakdown of sugars using bacteria or yeasts. Freezing involves reducing the temperature of the food to below -18°C to lower or stall the effects of harmful bacterial activity on the food. Another way to extend the shelf life of food is to replace the air inside a package with a gas mix consisting of CO2, nitrogen, and oxygen. Pasteurisation is also another way to not only extend shelf life but also done to eliminate impurities; food is commonly heated up to 72°C to destroy microorganisms before it is cooled to a temperature of 5°C. Smoking expands the shelf life of food by treating it with chemicals and heat while additives are included in various foods to enhance the flavour and appearance of certain foods. Additives are also responsible for extending the shelf life of these foods and for preserving the freshness as well.
What Makes Processed Foods Bad?
Processed foods can either deplete or retain the nutritional content of foods. Beneficial food processing reinforces vitamins and minerals. However, introducing excessive freezing and heating can work in the opposite way and lead to the destruction of crucial nutrients. Some of the processed foods contain harmful ingredients that can cause a number of health problems.
Usually incorporated to tantalise the palate and to increase your appetite. Research has shown that artificial sweeteners are responsible for a host of ailments and health conditions, which include bladder cancer, brain tumours, weight gain and other potentially fatal complications to develop in the body.
Typically found in fried foods, chips, crackers, store-bought baked goods, and other junk food, trans fats are notorious for increasing the risk of cardiovascular diseases. This, in turn, can also and lead to the development of heart conditions, such as heart attacks. Additionally, trans fats are the main contributors to inflammation, cancer, diabetes. They can also stifle the immune system, making us more susceptible to foreign pathogens, viruses and other illnesses.
Other Notable Disadvantages
Processed foods usually contain little to no fibre. In fact, when food is processed, almost all the fibre is lost. This leads to constipation and affects the overall health of the digestive system. Cookies, chips and other junk foods are chemically altered to be additive. These types of food release the chemical dopamine, which makes it hard for people to control their intake of junk food. Another drawback of processed foods is that it is high in sodium. Although excess sodium enhances the taste and shelf life of certain foods, a regular diet of processed foods can lead to heart disease and high blood pressure. Apart from increasing the risk of certain health conditions, processed foods are also very low in nutrients as compared to whole foods. This essentially means that you are consuming foods high in sodium, sugar and empty calories with as little to no nutritional content.
What’s the Verdict?
It’s clear that processing can work both ways, it can make foods safer to consume and even increase the nutritional content of certain foods. However, at the same time, it can also make foods extremely unhealthy and detrimental to health.
As discussed earlier, foods that have undergone tertiary processing are the unhealthiest as they contain the most chemicals. Additionally, these foods are heavily loaded with additives and preservatives. These compounds not only make foods taste and look great, but they also work to extend the shelf lives of these foods. In a nutshell, foods that have undergone primary food processing are much healthier compared to foods that have gone through tertiary processing.