Processed Food Definition
When attempting to improve your diet by reducing or eliminating processed foods, it’s important to understand what processed food is. The definition, however, isn’t quite as straightforward as many people would expect. The strict definition would be that any food that is sold or consumed in a way other than how it can be found in nature is a processed food. This means foods that pre-cooked (or technically, just cooking the food on your own is a form of processing) or mixed or otherwise altered are going to be considered processed.
Most people, however, don’t use this literal definition of processed food when looking at their diet. When people reference processed foods in relation to their diet, they typically mean foods that are significantly altered in a way that is negative to your health. For example, taking raw meat from a pig (which would be unprocessed) and processing it with nitrates, salts, spices and other things to turn it into bacon is definitely processing. On the other hand, pre-cooking a pork steak and selling it frozen (without preservatives or other additives) typically won’t be considered processed.
Cutting Through the Confusion
As you can see, finding the processed food definition can be more difficult than many people would like. After all, except for a few ‘food nuts’ who love studying the details of everything they put in their mouth, most people just want to eat healthy without having to get a Ph.D. in grocery shopping!
Finding a processed food definition that works for your goals is one of the most important ways to ensure you can stick to a healthy diet long into the future. Here are a few very simple tips for creating your working processed food definition:
- Check Ingredients – The first, and easiest, thing you can do is quickly glance at the labels of the food you buy to see how long the ingredient list is. The more ingredients, the more processed the food is. Sticking with simple foods that have as few ingredients as possible is a great firs step.
- Know Your Oils – Oils are often added to foods to improve taste and texture. Unfortunately, the most commonly added oils are vegetable oils such as corn oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil and others. These oils are highly processed and loaded with unhealthy trans fats. Vegetable oils like these should be avoided. Don’t worry, though; there are very healthy oils that are minimally processed through a technique called cold pressing. These oils include olive oil, avocado oil and nut oil.
- Low Fat Products – Low-fat products are attractive because people assume low fat means healthy. In most cases, however, low-fat products are highly processed, and while the fat content is reduced, food companies add in sugar and other things to make up the taste and texture. In virtually every case it is going to be healthier to eat a full-fat food that is less processed than a low fat option.
Keeping things as natural as possible is a good rule of thumb, but for most people it is not 100% possible. This is why finding your own processed food definition that will keep you healthy but also allows you to keep your time shopping and cooking to a reasonable level is very important. Think about how you can implement natural foods into your diet while cutting out unhealthy items. This will help you come up with the right processed food definition for you and your family.