By: Lindsey Loving Date: 7/23/10
Have you ever thought about how many foods we eat are processed? It may not always be obvious which foods we eat are processed, but in reality, nearly all of our food is processed in some way. Bagged lettuce and potatoes, apples piled high on grocery store counters; packaged fresh organic chicken breast; canned, no-sodium-added vegetables – are all processed!
So what’s the big deal about processed foods? Obviously these are healthful foods, so why are so many people telling us to avoid processed foods?
A new review by John Floros, PhD and others, to be published in the September 2010 issue of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) journal Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, attempts to show us the bigger picture by putting food processing into context; pointing out the consumer benefits achieved through modern food production, processing, and technology that we often take for granted.
According to a summary of the review in Food Technology magazine (July 2010), “IFT’s scientific review summarizes the developments of food science and technology, and agriculture, from the beginning of modern society to the present. The document also explains why food is processed, details key food processing methods, and presents information about technologies and other developments that hold promise for solving current and future challenges.”
In addition, many of the common controversies and misperceptions about processed foods, modern food production and technology are addressed in the review. For example, the perception that processed foods are less wholesome or nutritious than other foods is a common myth. In fact, processing makes it possible to add important nutrients to foods that are difficult to obtain in sufficient amounts in the diet. For example, calcium and vitamin D are added to milk and orange juice, fiber is added to cereal, and omega-3 fatty acids are added to margarine. These nutrients help us to stay healthy and can help reduce our risk of diseases such as osteoporosis and heart disease.
Other misperceptions regarding fears about the use of technology in food, particularly its safety, have resulted from inaccuracies circulating in the media, popular books and movies. However, as the summary states, “advances made in science, technology, and engineering during the past century have transformed our food system to one capable of producing an abundance and diversity of foods that are nutritious, safe, flavorful, convenient, and less costly than ever before.”
Food technologies such as biotechnology will be needed both now and in the future to produce food in a sustainable way that preserves resources for future generations, as well as to grow crops in areas of the world that experience extreme weather conditions, such as drought, flood, or less than ideal temperatures. “Biotechnology... has the potential to increase food production, improve food quality and nutritive attributes, reduce dependence on agricultural chemicals... and lower raw materials costs in an environmentally sustainable manner,” states the summary.
While there are some processed foods that are meant strictly as an occasional treat – to be enjoyed and not a staple in the diet – these shouldn’t be the poster children for processed foods. We have many safe, inexpensive, and healthful foods that are processed (ex. canned and frozen fruits and vegetables; low-fat milk and yogurt; canned fish and packaged lean meat and poultry; whole grain bread, pasta, cereal, and crackers, etc.) for which there are not affordable or convenient non-processed alternatives.
Given the facts and the choice, I say make mine processed.
Find out more about modern food production:
From Farm to Fork: Questions and Answers About Modern Food Production
Farm to Fork Videos on FoodInsightTV