When many people think of the term “processed food”, what comes to mind are fattening, heart-clogging, blood pressure rising, blood sugar elevating, and cancer-causing foods that probably taste good but are bad for health. We can’t deny that some foods are certainly bad for you when eaten in excessive amounts. For example, consumption of high levels of unsaturated fats, cholesterol and trans fats can lead to heart disease. Excessive sugar consumption can lead to obesity which increases the risk of diabetes. High salt consumption can increase blood pressure to dangerous levels. Substances such as acrylamide in fried foods and nitrosoamines in cured meat have been associated with increased cancer risks. However, that is not to say that all processed foods are bad.

First of all, let us define what a processed food is. A processed food is simply a food that has undergone a mechanical or chemical change from its original form. With this simple definition, you will realize that most foods that we eat are processed in some way. If you peel your apple this is a mechanical process. So peeled apples or even shredded carrots that we would agree to be healthy, actually falls under the definition of processed food. But, even highly processed foods that have undergone significant transformation can also be healthy. Soy milk and tofu are in completely different forms than what they looked like originally (soy bean). Nevertheless who would argue that they are not healthy? Consider high fiber and vitamin fortified breakfast cereals. Healthy or not? Of course they are healthy. So, don’t fall in the trap of saying blindly that “processed food is bad”. You can find tons of healthy food choices in the supermarket that are processed. The key is to be aware of your specific dietary needs and make sure that you read the nutritional label before you buy. Here is a map of various food processing techniques. What matters is not so much the method, but the final outcome of the end product. 

Food Processing Techniques
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Courtney Simons
Courtney Simons
Dr. Simons is a food science educator. He earned his bachelor’s degree in food science, and Ph.D. in cereal science at North Dakota State University.