Are all processed foods created equal? More and more, the words “processed” and “GMO” have been demonized in lieu of “all-natural” and “organic.” But are these just marketing ploys or are we justified for favoring an organic apple over a non-organic one?
There is no blame here. It is difficult to decipher the thousands of images and slogans marketed to us each week. However, I do believe it is important to know about what you are eating and why. At HealthFirst for example, most of the recipes we promote are comprised of “whole foods.” No, we are not referring to the popular market chain but instead foods that are as close to their natural form as possible with minimal processing and refinement. These are more or less foods with one ingredient. A basic rule of thumb is to base your diet around whole foods: fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains, clean protein and minimal dairy.
What We Mean By “Processed” Foods
On the other hand, we take “processed food” to mean food that has been genetically altered and highly processed without nutritional benefit. That last part is an important factor that is often overlooked. There are various processes certain foods undergo, including genetic modification to alter the taste and nutrient levels. “Genetic engineering makes it possible to achieve a desired outcome in one generation,” states Jane E. Brody in her article “Fears, Not Facts, Support G.M.O- Free Food” published in the New York Times. For example, genes inserted into rice increase its iron content while a gene inserted into corn enables it to better withstand a drought, according to Brody.
But once again, here we are referring to processed foods created without nutritional benefit. Think any food where you read the ingredient list and do not recognize over half of it. Does this mean you are never able to eat a processed food again? Absolutely not. The key is adding, not subtracting. By adding more whole foods to your diet, you will unknowingly eat less processed food. You will simply not crave them.
The Future of Processed Foods
In addition, the food industry is promising a lot of changes in the coming years. This Tuesday the FDA announced food companies must remove partially hydrogenated oils within three years. This decision is based on extensive research into the harmful effects of trans fat, include increased risks of heart attack and stroke. Even large companies are participating in the trend away from processed food. McDonalds, Kraft, Taco Bell, Panera Bread and Hershey’s have all made pledges to implement healthier changes within the next couple of years by removing unnecessary ingredients. Even so, I do question whether these changes are marketing tactics to temporarily please consumers or truly for the population’s health benefit.
Only time will tell what becomes of the health regulations of the food industry but the trend seems to be promoting a healthier lifestyle. Until then, the best thing you can do is educate yourself and find out what is right for you. How do you feel, physically, mentally and emotionally after eating certain foods? Why do you make the food choices that you do? What do the words “processed” and “organic” mean to you?