When we hear the words “Processed Foods” we typically think of packaged cookies, salty chips, and soda. But did you know that most of the foods we eat are processed in some way?
Processed foods are defined as those having any deliberate or intentional change made to them before being available to eat. Processed food includes all canned and packaged foods as well as food that has been fortified with additional vitamins or nutrients like vitamin D, fiber, or omega-3 fatty acids. Food that is available to purchase at restaurants, coffee shops, and cafeterias and other locations is also considered processed. Even food you cook at home qualify as processed foods!
Processing food can even be as simple as flash-freezing or dehydrating fruits and vegetables to preserve nutrients and taste – but yes, there are quite a few differences between a bag of frozen vegetables and a bag of candy!
Food processing began close to 2 million years ago when the early homo sapiens first discovered how a flame could “cook” food and alter it. As time progressed, humans discovered the processes of fermentation, drying, and preserving with salt as additional ways to preserve and process food. Fast forward to the modern age where we now have a multitude of food processing methods which help to provide us with a safe, convenient, and nutritious supply of food.
However, in recent years the term “processed food” has come to be nearly synonymous with “junk food” or “fast food” and is frequently blamed for obesity, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes. But while frozen pizza, nacho chips, and drive-thru French fries certainly qualify as processed foods, so do whole-wheat bread, homemade soup, and a bag of baby carrots. Here are some suggestions for determining which processed foods are part of a healthy, balanced diet and which should be avoided.
How to Determine How Healthy a Food Is
1. Look for overall nutrition
Because there are so many different kinds of processed foods, their overall nutritional values will vary. For example, frozen vegetables and fruit are considered nutrient-rich because the produce was picked and then flash-frozen at its peak of nutrition and flavor. In addition, foods that are fortified with vitamins, minerals or nutrients (think of orange juice with added Vitamin D or calcium) can help people reach their recommended levels for these nutrients.
2. Keep it simple
Processed foods can range from minimally processed items to more complex preparations. While most of us will eat foods from all stages of the processing continuum, for optimal health you’ll want to keep as many food choices as simple and less processed as possible.
Foods that are “minimally processed” are items such as washed and packaged fruits and vegetables; bagged salads mixes; nuts, coffee beans, and, of course, Tommy’s Superfoods!
Foods that are processed to preserve and enhance nutrients and flavor include items such as canned tuna, dried beans and canned tomatoes, frozen fruits and vegetables and jarred baby foods
Foods that have been enhanced are processed to include additional sweeteners, spices, oils, flavors, colors, and preservatives. Examples of food in this category would be instant potato mix, pre-seasoned boxed rice, cake mixes, flavored tomato sauce, and salad dressings and sauces.
Foods that are considered “Ready-to-eat” have been processed to require minimal or no preparation. Items in this group would include breakfast cereals, crackers, jams and jellies, ice cream, granola bars, cookies, rotisserie chicken, luncheon meats, cheese spreads, fruit drinks and carbonated beverages (just to name a few!).
3. Read the labels
The necessity of eating food from all categories of the processing continuum is a fact of life for most of us. However, when purchasing items that are in the “enhanced” or “ready to eat” categories it’s important to read the labels and be on the look-out for hidden sugar, sodium, and fat and try to make an informed choice about what is best to feed yourself and your family.
And while we hate to be the bearer of bad news, it’s important to remember that USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project certified cookies, chips, and snacks still contain sugars and fats, and while they certainly can make for a delicious dessert or mid-afternoon treat, they still need to be consumed in moderation.
Processing in Frozen Vegetables
At Tommy’s Superfoods, we are proud that our vegetables are picked at peak ripeness, perfectly seasoned, and flash frozen to ensure they are just as healthy and delicious when you eat them as they were the day they were picked.
Tommy’s Superfoods are minimally processed just as nature intended. We never add artificial colors, artificial flavors, or preservatives – this may not be the case with other frozen vegetables in your supermarket. Unfortunately, not all frozen vegetables are created equally, so if you’re shopping for frozen veggies and your local store is out of your favorite Tommy’s Superfoods vegetable medley, make sure check the label before putting it in your cart.
Don’t want to have to worry about reading labels?
Load up your freezer with Tommy’s Superfoods knowing that everything we put our name on is low-sodium, gluten free, non-gmo, and minimally processed. Bring veggies back into the lineup knowing that we never stop learning about the best places to find sweet potatoes, or Brussel sprouts or green beans, and that everything we make is additive-free.