Which processed foods can we eat and which should we avoid? This article will guide you through how to handle processed food. We’ll give you tips on what you can swap out, as well as nutritious alternatives you can make yourself in your own kitchen.
Before we look at how to handle processed food in our daily lives, it’s a good idea to explain the term processed food in more detail. In simple terms, foods can be divided into three categories:
1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods
2. Processed foods
3. Ultra-processed foods
Unprocessed or minimally processed foods are exactly what they sound like, foods in their natural state. However, this food may have undergone some processing in order to make it edible and safe and to increase its shelf-life. For example, it may have been dried, frozen, cleaned, boiled or fermented. This could include unprocessed meat/fish, milk, eggs, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, nuts and legumes.
Processed foods contain salt, sugars, butter and oils that are obtained from the unprocessed food. This category also includes precooked legumes in cartons or cans, preserved fish or other food, smoked fish, cheese and processed meats like bacon, sausages and hams. This type of food is created by combining unprocessed foods with salt, sugars, oils and so on.
Ultra-processed foods have undergone a significant amount of industrial processing. They often contain lots of sugars, artificial ingredients, refined carbohydrates and fats or additives. The consumption of ultra-processed food is increasing across the globe. A major factor behind this is that this type of food is usually very tasty and tends to be cheaper than unprocessed food.
What makes ultra-processed food stand out is that it is often low in nutrition and fibre, and has a high number of calories. Some processed food (such as processed meat, for example) and a significant proportion of ultra-processed foods have been associated with a number of health risks. For example, there are studies that show that this type of food is linked to excess weight, obesity, type 2 diabetes, certain forms of cancer, inflammation, cardiovascular diseases and depression.
In order to minimise consumption of unhealthy processed and ultra-processed foods, there are a number of products we can swap out for healthier alternatives:
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