The term ‘processed foods’ brings many definitions to mind; hence, there are many misconceptions. Most people define it as foods that are chemically preserved. However, foods undergo a lot of processes, from harvesting to preservation to preparation. As a result of this, processed foods cannot refer to only chemically preserved foods.
What are processed foods?
Processed foods refer to any food that has been transformed from one form to another. In reality, this means every food has been processed. Some of the healthiest foods are processed in one way or the other.
Some foods are processed to make them healthier, while others are processed for convenience’s sake. Let us explore some types of processed foods and their examples.
Types of processed foods
Sun drying is a popular method of food preservation that involves a lot of suns and airflow. Most of the time, fruits, vegetables, grain and seeds are all sun-dried to make them last longer.
Sun-dried foods are healthy and contain a high concentration of vitamins and minerals. Examples of sun-dried foods include; raisins, melon seed, pepper, garlic etc.
Foods are dehydrated by extracting the moisture content present in the food. Unlike sun drying, you do not need the sun to dehydrate food.
Some popular methods of dehydration include vacuum drying, freeze-drying, pasteurization and spray drying. Examples of dehydrated foods include; bouillon cubes, instant coffee, freeze-dried ice cream, evaporated milk etc.
Canned processed foods may be the most popular method of food processing. Foods are canned for preservation and storage purposes. Canned foods contain a lot of fat, sodium and preservatives, which increase the shelf life.
The benefits of canning foods may not be so beneficial when compared to the disadvantages. Kinds of beef, tomatoes, beans, corn, milk, etc., can be processed and canned.
Heat-treated foods or roasted food are also prevalent. Foods are heated to reduce or destroy microbial and enzyme activity.
Heating foods also leads to the denaturation of proteins and the gelatinization of starch, making it easier to digest. If done properly, the loss of nutrients in heat-treated foods can be minimal.
These are ready-to-eat foods that require little or no cooking. Convenience foods may be eaten cold or hot, depending on the type of food. The foods in this group include cereals, noodles, biscuits etc.
While some of these foods are very convenient for people who have a hectic schedule, they are heavily processed and are not healthy, especially for aged people.
Advantages of processed foods
Having established that some processed foods are healthy, let us look at some of the advantages.
Many processing techniques like drying, canning and heat treatment reduces the number of harmful bacteria found in foods. Anti-nutritional properties found in foods are eliminated during food processing.
During food processing, foods are prepared, stored and packaged to aid convenience. People with busy schedules have a variety of foods to eat without demanding preparations. In cases of war or food scarcity, foods that are processed may be the only source of nutrition.
They also have high nutritional content and boost the immune system. This is because most processed foods extract other constituents leaving a high concentration of vitamins, minerals and nutrients.
If some foods do not undergo processing, they cannot be consumed. However, some food processing techniques not only make the food palatable, but they also make it appetizing. So people can choose foods not just because they are necessary but because they crave it.
Disadvantages of processed foods
- They increase the risk of cancer as well as other ailments in old age.
- Most processed foods increase your calories content either by the rate of consumption or process of preservation.
- They contain trans-fat, low fibre, quick calories, low nutrients, and added sugar.
- Some have little or no nutritional value to the body.
- Laboratory-made or genetically modified foods are very harmful to the body and may cause severe ailments later in life.
Conclusively, processed foods are not all bad for the health. Some have more nutritional value and are safer than unprocessed foods. However, you should avoid harmful ones as much as possible. Eating healthy foods remains the only way to reduce sickness, stay healthy, and increase your life span.