How Do You Define

Published: 24th January 2007
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A by-no-means-exhaustive search on the internet regarding "processed food" turns up some very divergent and controversial information and opinions on the subject. One camp eschews any kind of processed food; the other the safety and convenience of it.  What is processed food? Wikipedia describes "processed food" as any food that is changed from its natural, raw state. Did you peel your banana before you ate it? Cut your apple into slices? Stir-fry your dinner vegetables? Scramble your egg? You just processed your food by that definition. Following are common food processing techniques listed in

the Wikipedia entry:

* "Removal of unwanted outer layers, such as potato peeling or the skinning of peaches
* Chopping or slicing, of which examples include potato chips, diced carrot, or candied peel.
* Mincing and macerating
* Liquefaction, such as to produce fruit juice
* Emulsification
* Cooking, such as boiling, broiling, frying, steaming or grilling
* Mixing
* Addition of gas such as air entrainment for bread or gasification of soft drinks
 * Proofing
 * Spray drying"

Under that broad of a definition, nearly every food we eat is processed. However, most of us tend to define processed food in a much narrower sense. For us, "processed food" is food which has been chemically altered through additives such as flavors, flavor enhancers, binders, colors, fillers, preservatives, stabilizers, emulsifiers, etc., or which has been manufactured through combination
or other methods. Generally speaking, if the ingredients aren't "natural", then we consider it to be processed.

If you want to make yourself totally paranoid about your food (and that's not too hard to do), there is plenty of information out there spelling out all the horrors that await you from eating processed food: the cancers and diseases you will get from the dioxins and thousands of other toxic chemicals; the shorter life span you will have; the damage you personally are inflicting upon our planet through your consumption of processed food, etc. There is no shortage of Chicken Littles running around squawking about the sky falling. And, to some extent, they're right. The chemicals in our food and our environment are certainly not doing us any favors.

But are things really as bad as they make them out to be? The truth is, processing has made the world's food supply much safer to eat, and has made the storage of food a much healthier and more viable option. Processing kills pathogens, and extends the shelf life of food. Were there to be a food shortage or even a famine, shelf items are going to keep you alive a lot longer than raw food, which will be rotten within a few days. Processing had made it possible to transport food to famine-stricken areas, thus helping to relieve suffering worldwide. Processing even increases the bioavailability of some nutrients, such as lycopene, found in tomatoes.

Despite these benefits, a diet exclusive in processed foods will almost certainly lead to disease. Our bodies are designed to eat natural, raw foods; there's no doubt about that. Raw foods contain beneficial enzymes and nutrients that are destroyed through processing. Just because a pill contains the "nutrients" of a whole shopping list of vegetables doesn't mean our bodies get the same benefit as eating the vegetables themselves. Nutrients, enzymes, and other components of the foods we eat work synergistically. We really don't know how well they work when they're isolated from each other, or when we ingest synthetic versions.

We should eat as many raw foods as we can daily. Adding fresh fruits and vegetables to our meals and snacks is an easy way to accomplish this. However, a totally vegan diet is just not feasible for most people. Time and resources are often strong opponents to good health. Additionally, there is not enough raw food for everybody to suddenly adopt veganism, nor would everybody want to. We must each find the proper balance that works for us.

Eliminating all processed food is probably not going to happen for most of us. But we can make better food choices and supplement our diets with missing components. We can opt for the apple over the apple juice. We can choose a baked potato or salad over french fries. We can choose whole-grain bread over the white fluff that is passed off as bread. We can take the time to read food labels. Chances are, if you can't pronounce it, you shouldn't be eating it. We can choose processed foods with a very short list of ingredients; the longer the list, the more processing involved, and the more nutrition lost.

Our bodies are amazing organisms, capable of extraordinary things. They are designed to filter out toxins at an astounding rate. They have a highly sophisticated defense system. They have an amazing ability to recover from serious damage. The key lies in providing our bodies with the necessary building blocks to accomplish what they were designed to do-to keep us alive!

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