Processed foods are foods that have been altered in some ways before we eat them. Not all processed foods are unhealthy as some foods are fortified to add nutrients while some needs processing to make them safer, such as milk that needs to be pasteurized to remove harmful bacteria. However, most processed foods contain high levels of sugar, salt, fats and preservatives to improve the taste, to extend the shelf life or to contribute to the food structure. Examples of processed foods are:
- Canned food such as tinned vegetables, baked beans etc.
- Meat products such as bacon, sausages, ham etc.
- Snacks such as potato chips, cookies and cakes
- Microwaveable meals or ready meals
- Drinks such as sugary drinks and soft drinks
Processed foods are always being stated as one of the main contributors of obesity and the rising prevalence of chronic diseases. This is because people may not be aware of what is added and also the amount added to the food they are buying and eating, which can lead to excessive intake of sugar, salt and fat. As we all know, consuming large amount of sugars, salt and fats are bad for our health as they contribute to long term diseases such as heart diseases, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
There is no doubt that at least some processed foods are found in most people’s kitchens, as they can be a time-saver when preparing meals. In addition, the extra ingredients in processed foods make it more flavorful which enhances the eating experience. The question is how can we eat processed food as part of our healthy diet?
There are many ways that we can do to reduce the amount of processed food that we consume:
- Read before you buy. Reading the nutrition labels can help us to identify and choose the right type of processed products and keep a check on the sugar, salt and fat content.
- Opt for minimally processed meats. Avoid highly processed meat products such as bacon, ham and sausage.
- Snack smarter. Think of crunchy nuts and seeds or even easy homemade popcorn when craving kicks in. They are healthier than that bag of chips.
- Make smart choices when eating out. Select foods that are cooked to order and reduce the consumption of sauces and dressings.
- Cook more meals at home. By doing this we can control the ingredients that we used.