We all know that there is a negative stigma surrounding certain processed foods, especially those that deliver too much sugar, saturated fat, sodium or calories. However, some processing actually improves the nutritional benefits of foods. The difference is in the details, and here are some examples of what processing can do for nutrition:
Adds important nutrients to your diet
During processing, beneficial nutrients can be added to food, making some processed foods important contributors to intakes of micronutrients like iron, folate vitamins and fibre.
Locks in nutrition
During processing, nutrients can be lost. But specific processing techniques minimise these losses and help capture the nutrients. In fact, the way in which fruits and vegetables are produced and stored, may affect nutrient levels as much as cooking, or more.
Boosts nutritional value
Some forms of processing, like steaming, can even improve nutritional value. For example, your body can extract more beta-carotene from cooked carrots than raw carrots.
Removes or reduces what we don’t want
The development of new breads, pastas and other products made from gluten-free wheat, rye and barley means that millions of people with Celiac disease and gluten intolerances no longer need to eliminate these nutrient-rich grains from their diet.
Main target for fortification
Foods are fortified in many countries to make sure the overall population gets the key nutrients they need. For example, folic acid may be added to flour because it can help prevent certain birth defects. Iodine is often added to salt to prevent thyroid disorder known as goitre. Without food processing, food and nutrition security would be at stake.
Brings taste, joy and convenience
Food processing enables of all these things. It provides the flexibility to cook a proper meal with the available time and skills, to try out new things.
It’s easy to become discouraged when you read that your food has somehow been processed, but it is important to look at the food’s nutritional content and the quality of your diet. The level of processing alone does not provide you with any of that information. Also, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and wholegrain is widely recommended. This can be done in many ways, be it cooking from scratch or in combination with processed foods, whatever works for you!