There is often some confusion over the term “processed food” and what it really means.
Obviously, many of the foods we buy at the supermarket are “processed” in one way or the other.
We buy chicken wings wrapped in plastic, butter that obviously wasn’t extracted directly from the cow and fish where the bones, head and organs have been removed.
We can not find these foods in nature, in this particular form. They need some kind of processing by humans or machines.
If a food looks like it should in its natural environment, then it probably isn’t very processed and is safe for consumption.
Of course, this rule may not always apply as sometimes animals are fed with crap and treated with drugs, while crops may be sprayed with poisonous chemicals.
Often the distinction between a “natural” food and a “processed” food isn’t quite clear, but here I am going to explain how to make healthy choices in these situations.
What Are Processed Foods? The Processing Type Matters
Many of the healthy foods we eat every day are processed by humans and machines.
Examples of these are: cuts of meat, fish, butter, coconut oil and baby carrots.
Obviously, we don’t usually buy our animals complete with head, eyes, intestines, hair and the whole works.
The distinction I’d like to make here is between mechanically and chemically processed food.
If the food has been processed by machines only, such as the grinding of beef or the making of butter from milk, then it should be okay to eat.
However, if there have been chemicals and other “foods” added to it, such as wheat flour, soy, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners or others then it is a chemically processed food, with potentially harmful ingredients, that you should (mostly) avoid, in my opinion.
Can’t Pronounce it? Don’t Eat it!
Another good rule to follow is that if you read the ingredients list and either can not pronounce some ingredient or have no idea what it means, then you probably should avoid it.
Don’t know what Potassium Sorbate or Hydroxypropyl Distarch Phosphate do, or why they are being put in your food? Don’t eat them then.
More Than Five Ingredients?
Another good indicator on the ingredients label is that if the “food” has several ingredients then it is probably a highly processed food.
When the ingredients label says “beef”, “chicken”, “almonds” — just one ingredient, then it should be a safe option.
Not Everything Packaged is Bad
Of course, we live in the 21st century and getting completely natural foods isn’t always an option.
Obviously we can’t go and hunt food for ourselves. Well, maybe we could, but it is time consuming and then we’d have to skip work and neglect other aspects of our life.
What we can do, is to do our best to always make the healthier choice each time and go for food that contains healthy ingredients, is minimally processed and we know is good for us.
Sometimes we just can’t avoid buying something that is close to being natural, but still slightly processed with some additives. In that case, it’s fine. At least it’s better than a wheat sandwich with margarine and HFCS-laden sauce.
If you have a very tight budget then you shouldn’t stress yourself too much over organic or natural foods. Eating healthy is important, but not as important as having a roof over your head.
In that case, just stick to the lower-carb options and feel certain that you’re doing the best you can with the resources you have.