Pressed Lemon Cheese

Processed Foods Are Bad, Right?

The idea that processed foods are wrecking the American diet occupies center stage in in much of what is written about food and nutrition. Want a lecture on the subject? Just tune into a commercial for Panera Bread’s “clean food.” These ads capture the popular zeitgeist defining “food as it should be.”

But we can’t help but wonder, where is all that dirty processed food we should fear? Seeking an answer, we turn to some smart dietitians. Our good neighbor in Pittsburgh, Leslie Bonci, tells us it’s time for facts over fallacy about processed foods:

Food processing can save you money and time. Canned and packaged foods have longer shelf life. They will stay fresher for longer and you won’t have to frequent the grocery store so often. A ready-to-heat package of rice which has been parboiled (processed) can be microwaved in 90 seconds. In addition, if you travel frequently and need to pick up food in an airport, a convenience store or a hotel snack shop, be thankful for the processing that allows you to grab a can of soup, a container of hummus, a packet of tuna or a microwaveable meal.

Likewise, Christy Harrison explains that she is more often seeing clients whose “clean eating” is causing them significant dietary anxiety:

One of the biggest issues is this irrational fear it creates about what you’re supposed to leave out of a clean diet: processed foods. Aside from the fact that this is literally causing some people to go hungry, the emphasis on avoiding processed foods is just another way we categorize foods as “good” or “bad” — a tactic nearly every nutrition expert will tell you can contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food.

Instead of demonizing all processed foods, we’d be much better off learning how to spot a decent processed food.

Processed foods make up more than half of the foods that Americans consume. Simplistic advice to “eat clean” and cut out processed foods may cause as many problems as it solves. We like the verdict of William Elliott, a random commenter on Panera’s clean salad advertising: “I have never witnessed anything in my 50 years on this planet so stupid. The people responsible will get their karma.”

Click here for more from Leslie Bonci and here for more from Christy Harrison.

Pressed Lemon Cheese, photograph © Susy Morris / flickr

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July 2, 2016

2 Responses to “Processed Foods Are Bad, Right?”

  1. July 02, 2016 at 7:42 am, David Brown said:

    The problem is, people don’t know what to avoid. They don’ realize that one major component in processed foods (linoleic acid) makes them problematic. Excerpt from Lipid Nutrition: Understanding Fats and Oils in Health and Disease:

    Specific recommendations made by United States governmental agencies suggest that linoleic acid should comprise approximately 1 to 2% of calories. Some argue that this should be increased to as much as 10% for optimal therapeutic effects. But this minimum recommendation for linoleic acid is not only met by modern food sources, it is usually exceeded to the extreme. For example, the average American would need only to consume about 45 milligrams of linoleic acid per kilogram of body weight per day , but they are consuming over 300. The same disparity exists for animals on modern processed foods. High dietary omega-6 fatty acids are common but essential fatty acid deficiencies are paradoxically also common. This is due to a variety of factors. The increasing use of warm weather seeds which now predominate in modern agriculture provides the excess supply.

    The “fat tooth” that modern cultures have is satisfied by large portions of omega-6 oils in processed foods. The discovery of cholesterol in atherosclerotic plaques, leading to the conclusion that cholesterol should be excluded from the diet, also led to increased consumption of vegetable (omega-6) fats. Although exceeding the minimums quantitatively is apparently easy, the quality of fatty acids is threatened by the very nature of processing itself, which can readily degrade essential fatty acids into non-utilizable or even toxic forms.

  2. July 02, 2016 at 8:14 am, Al Lewis said:

    There are so many “do’s” and “don’ts” and controversies that no one can keep track. I know it’s not always about, but we are very clear that sugar and trans fats are bad and should be avoided, and otherwise don’t jump through hoops because no one really knows…

    Demand too much of people and you’ll get zero compliance. Give them very simple instructions and you might have a chance…

    The one complicating factor is the 61 synonyms for sugar that food companies use.