What? Healthy processed foods? How can that be?
We typically think of processed foods as packaged food products that are high in fat, sugar, and salt. Think biscuits, cakes, chocolate, hot dogs, pies, deliciousness. These products also often contain additives which help them stay on the shelf for so long, increase the flavour, stabilise them, or just make sure they just taste pretty darn good. I’d say these are highly processed.
But let’s get technical here.
Almost all the food we eat is processed in some way.
Simply chopping up your carrot sticks is classed as a food process.
So yes, while food processing has lead to an abundant supply of sometimes foods and we know as a population we eat wayyyyyy too much of these, it’s important to remember this:
Food manufactures also process foods for food safety, for practically, and to increase and/or preserve the availability of nutrients to our bodies. For example,
Pasteurisation is the process applied to raw milk before we are able to pour it into our breakfast bowls. It involves heating the milk to below the boiling point to destroy disease causing pathogens and reducing the risk of foodborne illness to the consumer. This process also destroys microorganisms and enzymes that can cause spoilage and reduce the shelf life of the milk.
2. Nut butters.
While there are the added salt, sugar, preservative varieties, 100% nut butters are available on the supermarket shelf. These are simply made by placing the whole nuts into a food processor and processing until the desired consistency is achieved.
3. Frozen fruit and vegetables.
After picking, the vitamin C content of fruit and vegetables rapidly declines. The process of snap freezing these nutrient powerhouses preserve the vitamin content, and therefore the frozen broccoli is often nutritionally better than those florets you’ve had in your crisper all week. I can appreciate that you may not like the texture after freezing and thawing, but no means should we be wiping frozen fruit and vegetables off our plates.
4. Canned legumes.
Traditionally, legumes (ie. chickpeas, kidney beans) are prepared by soaking for 6-8 hours, drained, places in fresh water, brought to the boil and simmered for approximately half an hour. The soaking process makes them easier to digest and absorb the nutrients. In our increasingly time poor society, this preparation can often leaving the unopened pack of dried kidney beans at the back of the pantry. For two years.
So that’s why canned legumes are a super handy alternative. Whilst sodium is added during the canning process to preserve their appearance, simply rinsing them thoroughly can reduce the sodium content by almost half. Or you can buy the reduced salt varieties.
With only 35% of the population reporting they consume legumes 2-3 times per week, could you imagine if the only option was to soak overnight and then boil them?
Lycopene is an antioxidant found in tomatoes, which has been found to have anti-cancer properties. Studies have shown that the bioavailability of lycopene from tomato paste is actually higher than from eating raw tomatoes. The processing of tomatoes into tomato paste involves reducing the water content, and this concentrates the lycopene. But as with all tomato based products, best to choose the low salt varieties.
And let’s not forget,
6. Rolled Oats.
Rolled oats are produced by steaming oat kernels, and then rolling them into flakes. This process keeps the oats fresher for longer, and reduces the cooking time of your porridge dramatically. Then there is the quick variety, which is steamed for even longer and rolled into thinner flakes. While this does increase the glycaemic index of the oats, they are still a fabulous addition to your pantry.
So, fresh can be best.
But, frozen vegetables over no vegetables?
Canned chickpeas over no chickpeas?
It’s not all black and white. Perspective is important. Reduce the sometimes foods, and eat more of fruit and vegetables.
Let’s get that part on track.