Processed food provokes images of unhealthy snacks and meals that have been mass-produced in factories. But can our interference actually make some foods better for us?
The words used to describe the foods we eat can have a significant effect on how we perceive them: “artisan”, “handpicked”, “homemade” and “organic” foods sound a bit more tempting than the prosaic “tinned”, “freeze-dried” or “rehydrated”.
But when it comes to our health- is processed always worse than natural?
The European Food Information Council manager, Christina Sadler, says, “Actually, naturalness doesn’t automatically make food healthy.”
In fact, natural foods can contain toxins, and processing can actually make them safer.
Kidney beans, for example, contain lectins, which can cause diarrhoea and vomiting. They’re eliminated by soaking the beans in water for 4-5 hours and then cooking them in boiling water.
Minimal processing also makes cow’s milk safe to consume.
In 2018, a team of scientists each bought fresh vegetables from various grocery stores and examined their levels of nutrients, including folate and vitamin C, on the day they purchased them and a week later, after storing them in the refrigerator.
When they compared the chilled and frozen vegetables, they found that they had equal levels of nutrients. In some instances, the paper found that the frozen vegetables had higher levels than their fridge-stored opponents.
“There’s a misbelief that frozen produce isn’t as good as its fresh counterparts; however, that’s truly inaccurate,” says the technology and food science professor at the University of Georgia, Ronald Pegg.
Tinned tomatoes are a fine example of a food made healthier by virtue of it being processed.
Processing also allows minerals and vitamins, such as calcium, folate and vitamin D, to be added to certain processed foods, including cereal and bread.