What is a Processed Food?

Which of these is a processed food-

Trick question! The answer is B,C, and D.

Surprised? You are not alone. This goes against all marketing, advertising, and even what nutrition experts are saying. Let me explain myself: technically speaking, any food which has been altered from it’s original form is a processed food, so the carrots pulled from the ground with tops on (A) are the only unprocessed food shown above. The degree to which processing occurs has the greatest influence of whether or not that food is health-supporting.

When we think of processed foods we automatically think of a food like C or a food like twinkies, which is so far removed from what it looked like growing on a farm we have no notion of where it originated. And so a ‘processed food’ becomes a ‘bad food’. This notion is significantly encouraged by the media, which has 10-30 seconds to educate us on what we should or should not be eating for health. REALITY IS NEITHER BLACK NOR WHITE. A food that has undergone processing is not necessarily a ‘bad food’ (see option B in graphic above).

To find our way back to health, we must think critically and discern our own truth from what advertising.

Let’s look at the notion that a processed food is not necessarily a bad food. Both baby carrots and carrot juice are great examples of this. A baby carrot has been shaped, lightly bleached to kill bacteria, and packaged for convenience. Carrot juice probably started as option A, but went through a juicer and had the pulp removed. The carrot juice contains a boatload of vitamins and antioxidants – way more than you’d get consuming whole carrots themselves, as well as a lot of sugars that will cause insulin levels to rise due to the lack of fiber to offset them. Carrot juice is an amazing food for rebuilding and renourishing the body. It is not so great for fat loss. Which is healthier? That depends on who you are and what you need.

It’s pretty obvious that C is the most processed of these four choices. This carrot has been sliced, fried or baked in oil or dehydrated, seasoned, and packaged in such a way that it is shelf-stable for about a year. Does that make it unhealthy? Not necessarily, but it’s more likely to be unhealthy than the other. The less a food looks like it would had you harvested or killed it yourself, the more processed it is. The more processing done, the less likely it will be health supportive.

A simple truth of living in a technological age is that it is unreasonable and unsustainable to live without processed foods. But we do have a still have a choice in what we put into our bodies, so we can rely on the notion that the more unprocessed a food is, the more likely it will act as an advocate for your health. At VIBRANCE, our fat loss plans tend to center around large amounts of vegetables, leaner proteins, with carbohydrates and fats that come from minimally adulterated sources (beans or yams instead of whole wheat pasta, for example, or nuts/seeds rather than flax oil in another). These foods do a better job at providing the one-two punch of nutrient density and satiety that the body needs to thrive and melt away excess weight. There are some shifts in this plan for those seeking greater energy or those training for a marathon, but generally speaking, all bodies do better on a minimally processed diet.

This is not to say that we are not advocates of baby carrots, protein powders, greens supplements, pre-cut veggies, or vitamin supplementation. Far from it! With soil depletion, overtaxed bodies and minimal time allotted for preparation of whole, fresh foods, we welcome what industry can do to make health-supportive nourishment more accessible to the population.

Finding our ways back to health and vibrancy requires a discerning eye and keeping a finger on the pulse of our own unique needs. Because there is so much information so readily available and so many voices and companies clamoring for your eye, you must step up and become your own advocate to get what you want. Frankly, it sucks, but no one knows you better than you do! And becoming the advocate for your personal wellness empowers you to get the most out of the time and energy you devote to it.

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