Saturday, October 11, 2014

So What Really is 'Processed' Food?

So What Really is 'Processed' Food? 'Processed food' is the term we have all heard of--whether in the context of daily food choices or as an expletive used by grandma and health experts. In fact, the two most common questions I have been repeatedly asked in my high raw vegan lifestyle are 'What is processed food?' and 'Where to draw the line between processed and unprocessed foods?' So let's address them in this post.

Any food that has been altered from its natural form before consumption is processed food.

Note that this definition is broader than the conventional one we normally hear--any food that comes in a box is processed--in that it allows for varying degrees of processing applied to the different food items.

So how processed are the most pervasive food items? Sadly, most foods we eat from breakfast to supper in today's culture are anywhere between somewhat to highly processed; this also means that there's almost nothing we eat today that is completely unprocessed, or natural.

Highly processed: cereal, bread, milk, cheese, confectionery, all meats, burger patties (even veggie), pasta, oils and butters, all energy bars, snacks and packaged drinks, chocolate, all desserts, and most other 'edible' items. Highly processed foods often contain one or more of preservatives, colorants, flavor, and/or texturants.

Somewhat processed: all grains including rice and quinoa, legumes, sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables, even pre-washed and pre-cut ones available at the supermarket(!)... you get the idea.

Wow! I do find it amusing that we like to be out in Nature to recharge ourselves but when it comes to the substance that powers our lives--food--we're content with eating it from packaged boxes with 'natural' slapped on them. We strive to live a 'simple' and 'spontaneous' life powered by 'complex' chemicals and 'preservatives'. Simply put, we want to be 'alive' on 'dead' food!

So why is processed food 'dead'?

This blog post of mine describes in detail how high temperature kills vital nutrients from food. Not only that, most processed foods contain by-products from other industries as their main ingredients to reduce cost of production and increase shelf life. For example, high fructose corn syrup instead of sugar and engineered flavors instead of actual fruit. These foods are also usually low in fiber, high in trans fats, and contain chemicals that hijack the biochemistry of the brain. The different brands of packaged food are all about coming up with that irresistible flavor that consumers eventually develop a dependency on.

But where to draw the line?

Well, there's no parallel to eating all unprocessed. But how far is that practical? It helps to distinguish between chemically and mechanically processed foods. While I'd avoid the former at all costs, mechanically processed foods might be unavoidable at times, unless you want to resort to pressing your own olives into oil, shell walnuts and pistachios on your own, grow and harvest your own quinoa, and ferment your own soybean paste into miso! :)

I'd be wary of cans of tomatoes and vegetables lined up on the supermarket shelf outside of the refrigerated isles but I have resorted to pre-washed and pre-cut veggies when time is short. Prepackaged frozen fruit isn't my recommendation; buying fresh, organic fruit and freezing it myself for longer, off-season storage is just as easy. And brings me peace of mind.

Buying food from the local farmer's market ensures minimal processing to a large extent--that food is not mass-produced or transported long distance, it sells fast, and is consumed quickly. Simply put, the need to use chemicals is largely eliminated.

Another important guideline I have come to use is to listen to my body. Did it feel the same when I fed it canned vegetables vs. fresh veggies I washed and cut myself just before consuming? Once you start living the unprocessed lifestyle, you start tuning-in to the signals sent by your body. That, perhaps, is the best guideline anyone would ever share with you...

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