Unlearning the Myths About Processed Foods

 

Word on the street is that processed foods are the bad guy - they might taste good and they might look good, but they’re bad for your health. So is this an urban myth, or is it the real deal?

Let’s break down processed foods and find out!

Go to where you want to go:

What is processed food?

A processed food is any food that has been altered in some way during preparation.[1] Pretty much any activity turns whole foods into processed food: washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, drying, dehydrating, mixing, and packaging. 

This means most foods are actually processed to some extent: the frozen spinach in your freezer is processed, the Bio sauerkraut from the farmers market you impressed your in-laws with is processed, your precious Almond & Fig Plenny Bar is processed - and they are all crazy healthy. 

The origins of processed food?

Food processing has been around since the dawn of civilization [3]. Mankind has always wanted hassle-free solutions to their daily inconveniences, and processing foods made it possible. 

Do you recognize this problem?

 “Gosh darnit, my food goes to waste before I have a chance to eat it!” 

Well, processing can fix this! It can extend a product’s shelf life while preserving its nutritional values. Processing is - and always has been - essential for humanity’s food security [4]. 

Your favourite foods are processed

Everyday staple foods like beer, bread, and tofu derive from ancient processing methods. The history of bread appears to have begun some 30,000 years ago. Before you can enjoy the satisfaction of cutting through the crust of a freshly baked loaf, grain has to be grown, harvested, milled - and that’s when the actual “bread making” begins. The process then requires adding water, salt, a rising agent, and letting time and temperature do their job. Quite some processing. 

Four degrees of processing

To help people understand processed foods better, a group of Brazilian scientists developed a classification system called ‘NOVA’ [5]. The system divides foodstuffs into four groups, based upon the degree of processing. 

Unprocessed or minimally processed foods

Unprocessed foods are whole foods, or raw ingredients, which have undergone no or minimal processing. This includes most of the fresh fruits and vegetables displayed at your local grocery store, but also nuts and eggs [2]. 

Minimally processed foods are whole foods which are altered by - well - processes. We mentioned these in the previous paragraph: washing, cleaning, milling, cutting, chopping, heating, pasteurizing, blanching, cooking, canning, freezing, drying, dehydrating, mixing, and packaging. 

Processed culinary ingredients

Processed culinary ingredients are products like butter, oil, sugar, and salt. Without processing there would be no way of extracting precious oils from nuts or seeds. And who would want to live in a world without olive oil??

Processed foods

Processed foods are foods like canned vegetables, cheese, and freshly made breads. Basically made by adding Group 2 products to Group 1 products. 

Ultra-processed foods

Ultra-processed foods are foods that have been subjected to chemical procedures [8]. These processes can result in no longer being able to recognize the original plant or animal sources used for these food products [9]. An example? Candy! Most of those irresistible and colourful looking sweets are made with gelatin, derived from processing animal skin and bones [10]. And, of course, loaded with sugar. The devil in disguise comes in the form of high amounts of sodium (salt), trans fats, and sugar. 

This food group is often said to be rich in ‘empty calories’, because it is low in nutrients and high in energy density (Mr. Sugar has got you covered *wink-wink*).

The rise of instant foods and increased global obesity

Before pandemic times, when life was more on-the-go, processed foods had become more popular over the last few decades. People were looking for quick and easy fixes, and food manufacturers gladly delivered by providing consumers with ready-to-eat and instant foods. The main characteristics of these foods were quick preparation time (if any) and long shelf life. However, many food products were being stuffed with preservatives, additives, and more salt and sugar than necessary. These factors lead to a shift in global health, for instance an increased rate of obesity. 

So which processed foods are good?

Ready-to-eat foods are not the enemy, and neither are calories. Mostly, the degree of healthiness of a food product depends on its nutritional profile. Look out for nutritional specifications and aim for high numbers in the fiber, protein, vitamin A, C, and D, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium categories.

And if you are at a loss for ideas for good processed foods, here’s a list:  

  • Whole wheat/whole meal pasta and noodles
  • Vegetables: fermented, fresh, or frozen
  • Fruits: dried, fresh, or frozen
  • Beans and legumes
  • Canned fish
  • Nut butters 
  • Yoghurts
  • Oatmeal
  • Rice 
  • Plenny meals 

Of course, we couldn’t let this opportunity slide to mention Plenny meals: class-A processed foods with complete nutrition and 172 proven health benefits. Seriously, processed food doesn’t get better than this.

The ultimate processed food

Processing ingredients into the form of a powder is a great way to incorporate rich nutrients in our daily diet. Powders require little preparation and are versatile. Think of superfood powders like spirulina and baobab: they can easily be sprinkled over a bowl of granola, dissolved in a glass of water, or hidden in a delicious pancake. These are all ways to enrich your nutritional intake, without the inconvenience of preparing whole and raw foods. 

But while most superfoods are just one ingredient, Plenny meals contain a wide variety of nutrient-rich ingredients that have joined powers to provide the ultimate meal. These ingredients have been carefully selected for their nutritional values and health benefits. In fact, Plenny meals have 172 health benefits in total! True story. 

TLDR: The gist of it

Here's the gist: don’t cut out processed foods from your life like a toxic ex-lover. Instead, learn how to identify good from bad. Processed foods are great when it comes to convenience. Canned beans and Plenny Shakes are saving us a lot of preparation time, and guarantee a healthy daily intake of micro and macro nutrients.

If you are trying to navigate the sea of processed foods, then ingredient lists are your new compass. Be sure to avoid foods that contain added sugars, high levels of trans-fats, or are loaded with salt. And add a few Plenny meals to your weekly meal-plan. They’re low in sugar, salt and saturated fats, and full of healthy plant-based nutrients - the ultimate processed food. And did we mention the 172 health benefits

The benefits are endless and the value for money is insane:

Every single meal is 400 kcal and 100% vegan;
    Every single meal contains 26 essential vitamins and minerals, 20g protein, slow carbs, healthy fats, and (insoluble) fibre;
      Every single meal is GMO-free, palm oil-free, developed by dietitians & nutritionists;
        Every single meal has 172 scientifically proven health benefits for physical and mental fitness.

            From €1.19 per meal with a 30-day risk free money back guarantee.

            Why not give them a try? 

            Sources

            [1] Connie M Weaver, Johanna Dwyer, Victor L Fulgoni, III, Janet C King, Gilbert A Leveille, Ruth S MacDonald, Jose Ordovas, David Schnakenberg, Processed foods: contributions to nutrition, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 99, Issue 6, June 2014, Pages 1525–1542.

            [2] Connie M Weaver, Johanna Dwyer, Victor L Fulgoni, III, Janet C King, Gilbert A Leveille, Ruth S MacDonald, Jose Ordovas, David Schnakenberg, Processed foods: contributions to nutrition, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 99, Issue 6, June 2014, Pages 1525–1542, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.089284

            [3] Kim, E. (2013). Processed Food: A 2-Million-Year History. Scientific American.

            https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/processed-food-a-two-million-year-history/

            [4] Connie M Weaver, Johanna Dwyer, Victor L Fulgoni, III, Janet C King, Gilbert A Leveille, Ruth S MacDonald, Jose Ordovas, David Schnakenberg, Processed foods: contributions to nutrition, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 99, Issue 6, June 2014, Pages 1525–1542, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.089284

            [5] Flemish Institute of Healthy Living (2020) Implications of food processing: the role of ultra-processed foods in a healthy and sustainable diet. Laken (Brussels), Online: gezondleven.be

            [6] Booth, J. (2018). It turns out ripe and unripe bananas have different health benefits — here's what you need to know. Business Insider. 

            https://www.businessinsider.com/ripe-unripe-bananas-which-are-better-for-you-2018-7?international=true&r=US&IR=T

            [7] NHS website. (2020). Eating processed foods . nhs.uk. https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/what-are-processed-foods/#:%7E:text=A%20processed%20food%20is%20any,canning

            [8] Smith, A. (2020). How do processed foods affect your health? Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318630

            [9] Popkin. B. 2020. Ultra-processed foods’ impacts on health. 2030 – Food, Agriculture and rural development in Latin America and the Caribbean, No. 34. Santiago de Chile. FAO.

            [10] CBC Radio (2019). Pig skin, dead wasps and bee vomit: what's really in that candy? CBC

            https://www.cbc.ca/radio/costofliving/shopping-for-candy-and-cell-phones-and-will-you-even-be-able-to-buy-them-at-the-bay-in-ten-years-1.5332657/pig-skin-dead-wasps-and-bee-vomit-what-s-really-in-that-candy-1.5332660#:~:text=Gelatin%20comes%20from%20animal%20skin,bears%20a%20delightfully%20bouncy%20texture.

            [11] Collins, S. (2020). Hidden Dangers of Ultraprocessed Foods. Nourish by WebMind.

            https://www.webmd.com/diet/news/20200221/hidden-dangers-of-ultraprocessed-foods#:~:text=Research%20links%20ultra%2Dprocessed%20foods,convenience%20foods%20to%20cancer%20risk.