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Processed Foods: Types, History and Effects

14-Jun-2021

By Isha Sharma Gauli

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So what is processed food ? Well, it is understood that processed food is a type of food that has had its natural state altered. It is usually made by adding various culinary ingredients to make it more durable. Since the definition of processed food is so broad, it can be difficult to include all the food items that are considered  to be processed. To make it easier to understand, according to the NOVA food classification system, processed food falls on a spectrum from minimally processed to heavily processed based on what has been done to them. 

There are basically two extremes of processed food: minimally processed and ultra-processed. While both are good for convenience, the later one is not considered very healthy. The minimally processed foods are those foods which undergo the procedure of cooking, drying, salting, picking, smoking & fermenting. These processing techniques were discovered thousands of years ago and they still are vital to us today. Whereas, the ingredients of those foods which are not understandable or which do not fall under the basic culinary ingredients like salt, sugar, fats, oils are considered ultra processed foods.

So many of us might be wondering the difference between processed and junk food. The thing is all processed foods are not junk but all the junk foods are processed. Junk food are usually ultra processed foods which are formulated with industrial ingredients that are usually not found in real food. They are usually shelf-stable and cheap to eat. Some examples of these foods are sugary drinks, snacks, chips, candies, sauce, dressings, sweetened cereals etc.

Now, when we look at the history of ultra-processed food, research found out that it all started with pasteurization and canning which was popularized during the 1800’s. Likewise, during WWI and WWII periods ready to eat packaged meals were developed. And during the early-mid  20th century new processes and equipment like blenders, microwaves, and ovens enabled consumers to easily package and prepare different types of food. Whereas, the use of artificial colors and flavors allowed these meals to be more palatable. The emergence of these new products enabled consumers to enjoy a wider variety of food options like frozen dinners, instant noodles, baking mixtures globally. Concerns about the nutritional value of processed food began to rise during the late 20th century and the early 21st century. That is when people started becoming aware that many of these processed meals are low in nutrients and increase the calorie content without increasing the nutritional value.

The main concern about these ultra processed foods is that they are usually higher in sugar and are less filling than whole foods, which leads to overeating which in turn results in higher blood sugars and obesity. These foods are nutritionally inferior and are often eaten as snack food instead of healthy food, which promotes mindless eating and the need for real foods gradually fades.They are also very high in sugar and contain unhealthy fats like corn oil. And the other main concern is that they are addictive. The food industry hires food engineers to specifically engineer foods that are rewarding to the brain, which thus leads to overconsumption.

Ultra-processed food is everywhere. They are easier, require little to no time to prepare but they are addictive, and they contain chemicals that are bad for our bodies which result in chronic diseases. There are so many ways to replace the ultra processed food. Remember we always are one decision away from a totally different life. So DO IT for your future self !

Sources:
https://www.apecusa.com/blog/the-history-of-food-processing-how-we-got-to-what-we-eat/

https://www.heartandstroke.ca/-/media/pdf-files/canada/media-centre/hs-report-upp-moubarac-dec-5-2017.ashx

https://kaynutrition.com/what-is-processed-food-anyway/

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