I know this may sound contrary to most of the things you read, but not all processed foods are bad. Before you run out and buy a bag of Cheetos, thinking they may be healthy, let me qualify that. All foods are processed. In fact, the healthiest of foods, such as ripe, fresh tomatoes and broccoli are processed. Washing them means and removing dirt is part of processing fruits and vegetables. In most cases, processing is defined as being canned, cooked, frozen, packaged or changing their nutritional composition by adding preservatives, fortifying them or preparing them in a variety of ways.
Cooking food, such as tomatoes, may actually make them healthier.
While cooking destroys some nutrients, like vitamin C, it can actually enhance others. For instance, tomatoes contain lycopene, which is a strong antioxidant. Fresh tomatoes also contain vitamin C, another antioxidant. When you cook tomatoes, you destroy the vitamin C, but you also boost the amount of lycopene per serving. Now compare that to the processing of wheat into flour. Milling removes the bran and germ, leaving the endosperm. The bran has fiber and the germ has many nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, healthy fat and protein. That flour is then bleached and bromated. In fact, there’s no need for insecticide with white flour. Eating the flour kills bugs.
Another health processing is freezing.
Frozen fruits and vegetables are actually better for you than fresh. If the fruit or vegetable has to travel to market, it’s picked early, before it ripens, so it has fewer nutrients. Frozen vegetables and fruit are often processed right where they’re grown. They are left on the vine or tree longer and picked at optimum ripeness. When fresh fruits and vegetables are shipped to the store, it takes a while to get there and then sometimes they sit on the shelf for days before you buy them. Each day they lose a little nutrition. That’s not true with frozen fruits and vegetables. They’re as healthy as growing them yourself and eating them immediately from the garden.
Don’t avoid canned food either.
When you eat canned food, you’re probably eating healthy, but need to read the label. Some of the food contains additives, salt or added sugar. Canned tuna, salmon, canned fruit and vegetables can be an affordable option for people who want to eat healthy but are on a budget. Green beans, for example, often have added salt. You’re better off opting for a can with no salt added, but if it is, you still can use it even if you’re on a low sodium diet. Just dump the liquid and rinse the beans and most of it will go down the drain. If you read on the label that the fruit has you chose added sugar, don’t buy it. It is definitely not healthy. It’s linked to high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes, dental carries and other diseases.
- Avoid the snacks and food with empty calories. If the first ingredient is white flour or sugar, walk away. Even food you might think that’s healthy isn’t. If you read the label on granola or protein bars, you’ll find they’re often nothing more than really expensive candy bars.
- Peanut butter is a healthy option for protein and will fill you up, so it makes a good snack when combined with apples. Read the label and make sure the only ingredient is peanuts.
- Another processed food that’s healthy is yogurt, but you have to be careful. Make sure it doesn’t contain extra sugar to improve the flavor and also has live bacteria. Opt for full fat yogurt if possible.
- The best way to choose healthy foods is to look for food with the fewest ingredients. You don’t have to destroy your budget to eat healthier. Wise use of canned and frozen food in your diet can help you keep costs lower.
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