Processed food can contain high levels of salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats, leading to negative health consequences such as weight gain, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Eating a diet high in such food can displace nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins, which are important for overall health.
Maintaining a balanced diet that includes a variety of whole, minimally processed foods to support good health is important. This means choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein sources, and healthy fats and limiting consumption of processed and packaged foods, especially those high in sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats.
Is processed food good or bad for health? The answer to this question depends on the nature of the processing. Even before we begin answering this question, another related question begs an answer. Why do we need to process food at all?
Food processing has been going on since the beginning of time. Earlier, man would dry the food naturally collected from the wild for consumption during scarce food availability. Food was dried in the sun, and then later the fire was used, followed by baking, slow heating, pickling the food in oils, adding ingredients to extend the life of food, etc.,
Processing in the forms described above does lead to loss of nutritional value of food but is an essential innovation created by humans to extend the shelf life of food. If we can access natural, unprocessed food, we can secure for ourselves all the nutritional benefits provided by nature to that food.
As we acquired more knowledge on the nutritional needs of humans, we found that the human body needs not just carbohydrates, proteins, and fats but minerals, vitamins, and trace elements. Some of these were not available in some types of foods. For instance, Vitamin B12, zinc, and omega 3 fatty acids are either unavailable from plant-based sources or their bioavailability is poor.
This and the need to overcome nutritional deficiencies gave birth to supplements and the fortification of foods. Many of us who have older people in our families or have friends convalescing from a disease are advised to take nutritional supplements and fortified foods. A large food industry segment has been built toward fulfilling this need.
Food processing can play a role in preserving the nutritional value of food by extending its shelf life and making it more convenient and accessible. Proper food processing methods, such as canning, pasteurization, and freezing, can help to reduce the risk of foodborne illness and maintain the nutritional quality of food.
However, some processing methods, such as refining and adding preservatives, artificial colors, and flavors, can reduce food’s nutritional value. Additionally, many of these foods are high in added sugars, salt, and unhealthy fats, which can negatively affect health.
It’s important to choose minimally processed foods and to be mindful of added sugars, salt, and unhealthy fats in processed foods when making dietary choices. A diet that includes a variety of whole, minimally processed foods can help to ensure adequate nutrient intake and support overall health.
Food processing is a vast and multifaceted area critical to human health. It is a great innovation by man. To unravel the mysteries of food and nutrition, I recommend that we begin with the fundamentals of nutrition and explore each sub-segment step by step.
To learn about facts on nutrition and organic food, you can check here. For processed food, there are multiple books available on the subject.