Among the modern consumer market, processed and ultra-processed foods have rapidly gained popularity. Since they are convenient and require little to no preparation. Due to this fact, food industries around the globe are introducing new and innovative products every day.
However, health workers are not a fan of these ultra-processed foods for a variety of reasons. They suggest that a consumer should eat more pure and minimal processed food, rather than processed ones.
But what is the difference between all of these foods? And why it matters?
This article discusses all the basics of different types of processed foods.
Table of Contents
Types of Food Processing
As soon as the food is harvested it is subjected to some kind of processing.
Unprocessed/Minimally Processed Food
According to FAO, these types of foods contain only one ingredient which has no or very slight modification. However, these modifications do not change the inherent food properties that are present in the natural form.
Minimal processing can include washing, cleaning, drying, grading, sorting, and freezing. These foods are common in many households. For instance, they include eggs, milk, whole grains, fresh/ frozen/dried fruits or vegetables, and legumes.
These food are highly recommended by experts. Because they retain all the natural nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Additionally, studies claim that these types of food are beneficial to health and may help reduce health problems.
However, there are a few downsides to these types of food. First of all, they have a short shelf life and may expire fast. Moreover, they are usually hard to produce and require much more labor and time. It is also not easy to make it globally available.
Other than that, food contamination may occur during their handling and transport.
In processed foods, the product does not remain in its original state. Instead, it changes form through different operations like grinding, canning, bottling, salting, curing, pickling, etc.
Usually, these foods have 2-3 ingredients depending upon the nature and purpose of the final product.
Some examples of food from this category are butter, oil, salt, sugar, fruit/vegetable juice, cans of fruits/vegetables, and pastrami.
Depending upon their use, these are consumed on their own or act as an ingredient. Furthermore, the calories range from 100 kcal to 900 kcal in these foods.
Therefore, it is recommended that they are used in moderation or taken occasionally.
Also Read: How Much Oatmeal Should I Eat A Day
According to experts, these foods are a formation of different ingredients and industrial processes. Some of these ingredients include artificial color, flavor, preservatives, and additives.
Since these foods pass through a number of processes, they generally lack natural nutrients. However, these food are still popular choices when it comes to meals.
They require almost no preparation which saves the cutting, chopping, or cooking time. Additionally, they are easily available and are good in taste.
But due to their composition, they are higher in sugars, fats, and other harmful substances.
However, that does not mean that ultra-processed is completely unnecessary. They have their pros too which makes them useful.
Let’s take a deeper look at the Pros and Cons of Ultra-Processed Foods.
Pros of Consuming Ultra-Processed Foods
Easy Availability and Convenience
One of the reasons for the demand for these foods is their easy availability. Because of their packaging and better shelf life, they can be marketed across the globe.
Moreover, they reduce the traditional food preparation practices like slicing, grinding, cutting, and even cooking.
For instance, buying a frozen beef patty instead of preparing it saves a lot of time. Similarly, many ready-to-eat foods just need to be thawed or heated before consumption.
Furthermore, you can easily store many ultra-processed foods for a long time without the risk of contamination.
Greater Variety and Taste
Because of their versatile nature, these foods have a very large variety and great taste.
For instance, you don’t need to stick to one flavor, brand, or size when buying chips or yogurts. Instead, you can go for different flavors, brands, and sizes.
Moreover, food industries and retailers pick the best food formations to please their consumers. They also make them eye-catching to attract the buyer.
Since these foods are popular, many industries are now adding healthier options to these foods. Currently, there are many manufacturers that are making health-friendly food products.
These types of food are usually safe. That is because, during their preparation, they go through processes like heating, freezing, or washing.
During these processes, a huge microbial load is removed from the food. Moreover, the manufacturers make sure that the food premises is free of any pest or rodent.
Additionally, when these foods are packaged, they have added preservatives and stabilizers. This greatly increases shelf life. Therefore, the food remains fresh and safe for a long time.
Cons of Consuming Ultra-Processed Foods
One of the major concerns for these foods is health risks. Since they have a surplus amount of unhealthy ingredients, there is a great possibility that they are a threat to health.
They can contribute to diabetes because of added sugars. One of the surveys shows that 82.1% of Americans consuming ultra-processed foods exceed the daily recommended limit of sugars.
Additionally, they may cause weight gain, a decrease in metabolism, and obesity. However, the data on these claims is limited.
Furthermore, the fats and high amounts of cholesterol in these foods may increase the risk of stroke.
Lack of Essential Nutrients
One of the biggest downfalls of these products is their lack of nutrient profile. Since processes like crushing, heating, freezing, and drying destroy the nutrients.
For instance, crushing fruits to extract juice breaks the complex sugars into simpler sugars. Further processing of these juices into sauces can completely destroy heat-sensitive nutrients.
Similarly, while frying potatoes to make chips, the amount of vitamins and minerals greatly reduces in them.
However, there are some food manufacturers that enrich the food with lost nutrients or use methods for minimal nutrient loss. But these practices are rare.
Foods that are heavily processed are low in fibers and other fulfilling components. Because of the simpler structure of these foods, they are easy to absorb in the body.
You could eat 1000 kcal food from this category yet feel unsatisfied and hungry. Therefore, after eating them, one gets hungry much faster than eating unprocessed foods.
Moreover, these foods have flavor enhancers that make the consumer eat more and more.
Comparison Table to Identify Different Foods
|Unprocessed Food||Processed Food||Ultra-Processed Food|
|Tomatoes||Tomato Juice||Tomato Ketchup|
|Whole Wheat||Refined Flour||Cake/Cookies|
|Peaches||Peach in Cans||Peach Jam|
Clearly, ultra-processed foods are not completely bad. There is also a plus side to these products. Especially in modern times.
However, it is always to eat everything in moderation to avoid health issues. But when it comes to these foods, I suggest using them occasionally or in low quantity.
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