Q & A Thursday: What are Processed Foods?



know processed foods are bad for me, but seriously, what are they?



We hear a lot about how processed foods are the devil, but we rarely talk about what they ACTUALLY are. So let's take a few minutes and clear this up! To some extent, everything we eat is processed. The difference is how it is processed. Normal food processing is what we do at home when we’re cooking it, and that’s all good. However, the bad kind of processing is the stuff made in large factories that use crazy heating and cooling and chemical alteration to create the product.  Most of these are Frankenstein-like derivatives of corn and soy. They can be found in soda, candy, deli meat, etc. So even though you may think you’re eating something healthy, the nutrition content is severely minimized during this process.  Through the excessive heating and cooling processes, which are required in order to give processed foods extended shelf lives, vital nutrients are greatly diminished.  For example, the excessive blanching of veggies causes water-soluble vitamins like vitamin B to fall out.  Ultimately, over-processed foods aren’t nutritionally dense.

They are like empty calories: You need to eat a lot of it to get any nutritional benefit.

Let’s take a look at an unlikely example:


The Frozen Veggie bag. Congrats! You decided to eat veggies, mom would be proud! What mom doesn’t know is that when large food corporations distribute massive amounts of veggies, there is a huge risk of food-borne illness. (remember the spinach scare?!) To combat this, they heat the veggies to crazy-high temps to kill bacteria that would cause them to rot. They then add chemicals to make it last even longer and to add “flavor.” 

My advice: reserve that bag of peas for shin splints.


Processed foods are bad for two reasons:

1. They are lacking nutritionally. 

2. They have additives.


You saw evidence of #1 above. Now lets look at additives.

To add back in the flavor that was lost during the processing, manufacturers add a variety of substances. We’ve all heard of trans-fats (hydrogenated fats) that are used in things like peanut butter and old school Oreos. (Why didn’t they ever think to stuff Oreos with peanut butter?) Anyway, adding transfat helps the product to last longer and maintain a smooth consistency. The downside? Longer shelf life = Higher LDL cholesterol + Higher risk of heart disease. No thanks!

I could go on and on about this forever, but I’ll just leave you with this table instead:

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Perhaps one of the most famous stories of processed food is the infamous “Pink Slime.” Chances are you’ve heard of the fast food scandal and immediately regretted your late night trip to McDonald’s.  Check out awesome video to learn more about how it’s made. Thanks, Jamie Oliver!

In a perfect world where we were constantly full of self-love, we'd never eat anything that's processed this way.

But, we're humans. Nobody expects you to be perfect.

The 3 best solutions to minimize our intake of the bad stuff is to:

1. Meditate- Duh! Connecting with yourself helps everything.

2. Exercise- Connecting with your body makes you want to feed it the good stuff.

3. Crowd-out- Add in enough of the good stuff (greens, veggies, water) and your body will no longer crave the bad stuff. 

But seriously, cut the crap. It makes a big difference :) 

What are ways you've decreased your intake of processed foods?

Share it below!