Why do we Process Foods?
It is commonly understood that in almost all cases, processed food is not as good for you as unprocessed food (and many times it is unhealthy). There are many different reasons why foods are processed today. Some are good and valid reasons, and others just aren’t. Learning about the why we process foods today will help you to learn more about the motives behind it and also when and how to avoid processed foods.
Extend Shelf Life
Today the most common reason for processing foods is to extend the shelf life of the food. Fresh foods go bad within a matter of days or weeks in many cases, which leads to a lot of waste. It is also much harder and more expensive to get and keep fresh foods on the shelf in many places. While extended shelf life is a good thing in many situations, the negative health, and nutritional issues often outweigh any benefits, especially in first world countries where there is a massive food supply.
Many food companies like to process foods because it allows them to reduce the overall cost of the product. When they can make thousands of pounds of a product in one place, pack it up and then ship it around the country or even around the world, there will be significant cost savings. This, of course, will increase the profits of the food companies, which is always their priority.
There is no doubt that grabbing a frozen pizza and tossing it in the oven is far easier than taking the time to cook a healthy and delicious meal using fresh foods. Most people are so busy with work, family and other things that they are willing to sacrifice health benefits for convenience, which is one of the reasons we consume so many processed foods. If you take the time to learn some simple, delicious fresh food recipes, however, you can enjoy the convenience without using processed foods.
Many people in the ‘fresh foods movement’ will overlook the fact that some processing is going to be necessary and even good. The fact is, after all, that the simple act of cooking food is the earliest and most basic form of processing. Some processing of food is done to increase its safety. For example, pasteurizing and homogenizing milk will virtually eliminate the risk of consuming certain types of bacteria that can make you very sick. While this also reduces or eliminates certain health benefits, it is a good trade-off in some cases. Of course, raw milk can be very healthy when collected and stored properly, but that is not possible for all people.
To Improve Taste
Some foods are processed to make them taste better. The most iconic example of this today is bacon. Bacon is typically processed using nitrates, sugars, salts and other flavors which help to extend its shelf life, but also make it taste great! While eating fresh pork is far healthier than bacon, most people would agree that the bacon tastes better.
Is it worth it?
All this demands that we ask one question. Is eating processed foods worth it? In some parts of the world having processed foods available can save people from starvation, in which case processed foods are a good thing. For most people in first world countries, however, the negatives of most types of processed foods far outweigh the positives. Taking a little extra time to cook and enjoy fresh foods will improve your health, energy levels and may even lead to a significantly longer life. With this in mind, it is best to reduce or eliminate most types of processed foods from your diet.