Yes, you read that right—could there really be some benefits of processed foods? You’re used to hearing all about the dangers of processed foods (like how they’re full of sodium, sugar, and unhealthy preservatives)—that’s definitely what everyone tells my husband, who seems to eat fast, processed foods every day without ever gaining a pound (but that’s a different story for a different day).
He’s definitely not alone, though. Americans eat about 30% more processed, packaged foods, than fresh foods, and they eat more processed foods than virtually any other nation worldwide! That comes as no surprise, considering the amount of fast food chains that seem to open up weekly.
While you can’t escape reading about the dangers and harms of processed foods, are there any benefits? Of course. After all, there’s a reason why we decided to create them in the first place. Consider these reasons:
While no packaged food is perfect, having food processed helps remove harmful bacteria or pathogens. That’s the reason why we drink pasteurized milk, instead of unpasteurized, raw milk. When food is processed and packaged, it’s also generally stripped of water and liquids, which also helps reduce the possibility of bacterial growth, which requires some water to grow.
When you think of processed foods, you probably think of frozen dinners and McDonald’s. But even canned and frozen veggies count as processed foods—and that’s not a bad thing. Preserving food in cans or by freezing can help some types of vegetables retain nutrients longer, according to the European Food Information Council.
Wondering what’s in your food? You don’t have to wonder when you buy a packaged food item, because all the ingredients are listed right there. This is absolutely essential for people with food allergies or intolerances, because even eating a small amount of an allergen can trigger a reaction. This is one of the reasons why some Americans with allergies find it difficult to travel in different countries, because it’s hard to know exactly what’s in your food if you can’t read an ingredient list.
So if you don’t want to give up your processed foods, then is there a way to choose healthier alternatives?
I think so. After all, once I realized my husband really loved his French fries and chicken nuggets, I realized I’d have to figure out a way to incorporate healthy foods into his diet.
Here are two easy ways you can reap some health benefits of processed foods:
1. Switch the instant pizza for frozen seafood
The Japanese eat a lot of fast food too, but their processed food definitely looks a little different than the typical North American diet. Next time you want to grab a frozen pizza, opt for frozen seafood instead: it generally contains little to no additives, as well as is not very processed, and retains many healthy nutrients.
2. Choose fortified processed foods
If you’re going to eat fast food, then choose ones that are fortified with extra vitamins and nutrients. You can buy vitamin D-enriched frozen breads as well as calcium-fortified frozen meals. This way, you’re ensuring you get your nutrients too.
Laskawy, T., “Americans eat more processed food than, well, anyone,” Grist web site; http://grist.org/article/americans-eat-more-processed-food-than-well-anyone/
Thorne, R., “What are the benefits of food processing?” Livestrong web site, May 25, 2011; http://www.livestrong.com/article/454626-what-are-the-benefits-of-food-processing/