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Note: This Blog post is the winning post from the Community Nutrition class at the University of Maryland after IFIC Foundation Executive Director spoke there last month. See her post for more.

By: Mehdi Naqvi, Senior Nutrition Major, University of Maryland

Introduction

When first hearing that a certain food is “processed,” consumers often make the mistake of assuming that the food is automatically unhealthy and should be avoided.  The wealth of misinformation surrounding processed foods is to blame for this common misconception.  The truth is that processed foods are not always unhealthy for you and can be beneficial for us, both nutritionally and for the sake of convenience.

What exactly is a processed food?

A processed food is any food that undergoes an intentional change before it is consumed.  Common processing methods include freezing, drying, and preserving with salt.  Pasteurization of milk is a processing method that kills any harmful organisms that may be present in raw milk.  Processed foods can be just as nutritious and unprocessed foods – sometimes even more nutritious!  Many processed foods are fortified with essential vitamins and minerals that may be hard to obtain otherwise.

The Food Processing System – Full of Benefits!

Our food processing system provides us with unique and healthful foods that we would not otherwise have access to.  Special food packaging techniques allow fresh foods to stay fresh – straight from the farm to your fork!  As mentioned earlier, processing methods such as pasteurization make foods safer for us.  Our processing system also makes foods more affordable.  Did you know that canned vegetables are cheaper than their unprocessed counterparts?  Processed foods can be fortified with vitamins and minerals, making them excellent sources for filling our daily nutrient requirements.  People with special dietary needs benefit immensely from food processing!  Did you know that food processing can customize foods low in sugar, cholesterol, fat, and carbohydrates?  These benefits are all due to the food processing system.

Food Processing – Convenience and Availability!

Food processing allows for the production of foods that make all of our lives easier.  It’s a busy world and sometimes we don’t get the opportunity to eat healthy foods like we should.  Food processing, however, allows for the production of nutrient dense foods that are quick and easy to prepare.  When time is so precious, these quick meals can be invaluable.  Preparing a nutritious lunch is difficult when you’re at work or school, but processed foods make our lives easier by virtually eliminating preparation time. 

If it weren’t for food processing, we wouldn’t have year-round access to many foods that only grow during certain seasons.  Our food processing system makes these foods available to us any time we want.  Dried fruits are a great example: drying fruits is a preservation process that allows the fruit to remain tasty for a prolonged period of time.

The Truth is Out!

Now that you guys know the truth about processed foods, it’s time you go out there and take advantage of our food processing system.  Food processing is NOT synonymous with making fresh foods unhealthy!  Treat yourself to some orange juice fortified with vitamin D and calcium, or a pie made with frozen cherries – and appreciate our food processing system!
 

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