What are processed foods

When people think of processed food they tend to think of highly processed foods such as cakes, fast food, junk food and so on.

But is this what processed food really is?  Is a food either processed or not?

What about a drink?

These questions are designed to get you thinking, and this post was inspired by a wonderful question in one of my Facebook groups…

So is it a processed food? Well, I thought in my infinite wisdom I would ask the most intelligent cohort of people on the planet; Twitter users.

Granted, my 4th option skewed the results somewhat, but I think it’s fair to say that most people said my sliced apple was not a processed food.

As ever, we need to define what a processed food is and then form a conclusion.

So, let’s do that.

This is my definition; it is not an official definition.

Processed food is any food that has changed from its natural state.  Read it again, it’ll be useful when we evaluate some foods.

Let me be very clear; this is a massive range of foods and drinks.  That’s the point here.

This is from the NHS website ( https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/how-to-eat-a-balanced-diet/what-are-processed-foods/ ) and it’s a pretty good assessment also.

Key message:  Not all processed foods are unhealthy.

Let’s say you take a potato from the ground and put it in the oven for an hour.  Is it processed?  Well, if you had weighed it before and weighed it after you’d find it would weigh less after being in the oven for an hour.  Why?  Some of the water has evaporated and boiled off.  So, that baked potato is a processed food.

But it’s not very processed, but it is processed!

What about if we take a potato, slice it into thin slices and then bake those slices.  Have we created a processed food? Yes, these are chips, or as the yanks call them “fries”.  If we do the same, but instead of baking them, we fry them in oil we have a new food.

The point of this is to illustrate the processing can as subtle as heating a food, or as violent as cutting it and changing its appearance entirely.

So, back to my question. If I take an apple and slice, am I eating a processed food?

Yes, I am.  Here’s why.  An apple in its whole food requires more chewing than the sliced apple I created.  When we chew we produce saliva that has enzymes to break down food. In essence, digestion starts in the mouth.  By cutting the apple, I have bypassed part of that process.  For sure, it still requires chewing and in the limit would be using a food processor and creating a ‘smoothie’ that requires no chewing, nonetheless, I still created a processed food.

The take away from this is to start to think of food and how far it deviates from its natural form, that’s all.

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3 responses

  1. I just wanted to pick up on the importance of chewing our food properly. Like many people I used to eat my food too quickly. It was the way I lived, always on the go, not enough hours in the day. It was almost like having to eat was an inconvenience. I also wasn’t aware that the digestion process really starts in the mouth and so by ‘bolting’ my food I was not breaking the food up enough so not leaving food in my mouth long enough for the Saliva to do it’s work. So now by taking longer to chew I enjoy my food more, I feel fuller so I’m eating smaller portions and my whole digestive system works so much better. Who knew there were so many benefits from just taking your time over your meals!

    1. Thank you, Adrian. Great points and that inspires a post about smoothies in particular.

      You’re spot on! This video, particularly the latter half hightlights your point regarding chewing

      So true about eating being near an inconvenience!