Weekend: Processed foods — the good, the bad and the in-between

By SNEHA PATADIA
Are all processed foods bad?
The term “processed” has obtained a negative connotation. Are there foods that are highly processed with artificial and potentially harmful ingredients? Abundantly, yes.
But, are all processed foods made like this? The answer is no.
In fact, some foods are processed by being fortified with nutrients for our benefit. For instance, milk and 100 percent juices are often fortified with nutrients that our bodies need, such as calcium and Vitamin D.
Whole grain breads and cereals are often refined and processed to contain extra fiber, which is important for digestion, along with several other benefits.
Baby carrots and bagged spinach are also processed. These convenience items make it easy for us to increase our intake of vegetables throughout the day, without having to do much work.
Let’s not forget though, that there are foods which can be heavily processed and provide us with little to no nutrition. Long ingredient lists and high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient are pretty good indicators that a product is heavily processed and of little nutritional benefit.
The key is to make sure you educate yourself to ensure you are buying items that are minimally processed by watching out for the ingredients, added sugars, sodium and fat contained in certain food items. Looking at the nutrition facts label is a great place to start.
Sugars such as high fructose corn syrup or even pure cane sugar are often snuck into products that several of us may be unaware of. We can look at the ingredients under the nutrition facts label in breads, juices, cereals and even pasta sauce.
Sodium is another one that can be hidden in a lot of processed foods because, when things are preserved in sodium, they undergo a level of processing.
Since the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, look for low-sodium or no-added-salt labels on nutritious, preserved food items such as beans, canned or frozen vegetables and soups.
Another important thing to remember is that if you are buying canned beans, be sure to rinse the beans after opening the can. This can reduce the sodium content by 40 percent.
We should also look at the nutrition facts panel to make sure we are aware of any hidden fats in our products. Try to limit partially hydrogenated oils, or, in other terms, trans fat, which can sometimes be found in certain peanut butters.
All in all, keep in mind that not all processed foods are bad for you. Just make sure you read the nutrition facts labels so you know what you’re eating, and that you aren’t consuming foods that are heavily processed, providing little to no nutrition.
Patadia is a dietetic intern at Bluffton University working with the Ohio State University Extension.

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