Over the last month or so we’ve talked about the 5 food groups and how much we need from each group. In this post we’ll talk about processed foods and how they fit into a healthy diet.
There are some good processed foods and some not so good ones. Technically any food that has been altered from its natural state is a processed food. But some processing isn’t a bad thing depending on what it is. Cooking is a process, but that doesn’t mean we need to eat all our food uncooked. In some foods, processing is a good thing. A couple of examples of this are reduced fat milk where some of the saturated fats have been removed, or whole grains that have been milled to make wholemeal flour. In some cases, more nutrients are introduced during processing. Examples of this are milk with added vitamin D, or bread flour with added iodine and folate. Some processing even allows us to add variety to our diet. For instance, frozen vegetables or berries, or canned foods (look for varieties with no added salt) can be a good way of including these foods in your diet when fresh varieties aren’t available.
The not so good processed foods are foods where some of the good parts of the food have been removed. An example of this would be white flour, where most of the fibre has been removed leaving mainly carbohydrate. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything wrong with carbohydrates, but people with a diet high in processed carbs tend to displace a lot of nutritious foods, leaving a less than ideal diet. In some cases, it can be easy to over consume on highly processed foods, which can lead to weight gain and all of the problems associated with that. There is also a tendency towards higher sodium and lower potassium content with some types of processed foods. This can cause problems with fluid balance and is associated with high blood pressure.
Dried fruit is another example of processed food. Dried fruit can be nutrient dense, but be careful because it can also be energy dense, so can quickly add a lot of extra kJs to your diet. There is a bit of a trend towards making nutritious “superfood” snacks from dried fruits, nuts and seeds. These types of snacks definitely are full of nutrients, but they are also high in kJs so I would consider them “sometimes foods” or special treats, not foods that you should include as a part of your everyday food intake. My advice for snacks would be to stick to a piece of fresh fruit. Fresh fruit is not only nutritious but tends to be high in fibre to help keep you feeling full, while being not so energy dense so they won’t add too many kJs to your day.
Try to keep away from packaged foods in the isles of the supermarket. They tend to be highly processed and can contain a lot of preservatives and flavour enhancers (salt, MSG and a variety of other chemicals). Nearly all of the breakfast cereals found in the isles of your local supermarket are examples highly processed foods. With most of these you would have trouble identifying what they are made from. Without even reading what additives are in these foods the fact that you can’t identify what they are made from is a good indication of a high degree of processing.
If you stick as close as you can to the Australian Dietary Guidelines, you’ll be eating a healthy diet that doesn’t contain to many highly processed foods anyway. The benefits you’ll get from having a healthy diet will make the few small sacrifices well worth it.
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