Dietitian Melanie Marino reveals why the extra ingredients in our food could be to blame for the extra kilos on your scales.
‘Processed’ food gets a bad wrap. It’s blamed for our poor health and weight
problems. However, not many of us even truly understand what a processed food is.
Here are some tips on how to avoid the plastic and refine your processed food
When we cook a meal we are processing it. Some of us actually own a food
processor. This practice does not make the food bad for us. When dieticians refer to
processed foods they are talking about those that have lost nutritional value before
they reach the grocery shelves.
Minimally processed foods are those, which have been pre-prepped for
convenience. These include bagged lettuce, cut fruit and roasted nuts. Every time
you tamper with a food and change its original form you are affecting its food
value. Just cutting up an apple depletes its vitamin and mineral content so eat a
whole one where you can.
Ready to eat foods such as crackers, deli meats and cereals are more heavily
processed. You can use your common sense to work out that slices of smoked
ham are a long way from your local piggery. Foods, that have had too many
preservatives and sweeteners such as pasta sauce, salad dressing and cake mixes
also fit into this category.
Some of the worst types of processed foods are those that you will find in your
frozen section of your supermarket. If you’ve microwaved a frozen roast dinner
and compared it to your Mum’s then you can see that the taste and nutrition
definitely disappeared in the process. Avoid these where you can or if you’re
desperate choose organic, frozen meals.
The problem is not just the destruction of nutrients when foods are heavily
processed. It’s also the addition of sodium, sugar and fat.
Most processed foods add these as a preservative and also to enhance flavour and texture. If most of
our meals and snacks include processed foods then we put at risk our weight,
teeth, blood pressure and heart.
Rinse your canned foods as this can reduce the sodium content by up to forty
percent and dilute sauces with water. Most products now come in light sodium
or no added salt varieties so choose these. If you really feel you need salt for
flavour then you are far better sprinkling some table salt on your food than using
Sugar is a big culprit and is often heavily added to processed foods. Sugar in
tomato sauce, packaged yoghurt and mayonnaise makes up to a quarter of the
product. Even baked beans and cereals can have close to twenty percent sugar
content. Try to buy sauces that have no added sugar and check the label on the
Looking for added sugars such as maltose, brown sugar, corn syrup, cane sugar,
honey and fruit juice concentrate in the first two or three ingredients tells us that
the sugar content is high. Avoid processed fruit snacks, sweetened nuts, dried
fruits and juice.
Fat is another offender in processed foods. Check the saturated fat in your
canned, bottled and packaged foods. Trans fats are on the decline but these are
the worst types of fat and can still be present in small quantities. Check your
label for these and also hydrogenated vegetable oils which also mean your food
will have some amount of trans fat in it.
Another reason to avoid processed foods from your supermarket is that they
cost a packet. Potatoes will cost you only around 20 cents per kilogram. Compare
this to a packet of crisps at three dollars per kilogram or frozen chips at a
whopping five dollars per kilogram. Likewise an apple will cost you around 70
cents where as a chocolate bar is around two dollars fifty.
Not all processed foods in your store are bad. Some are processed to lock in peak
nutritional value. These include foods like canned beans, tuna and vegetables
and also frozen fruits and vegetables. If your local produce is looking a bit off
colour or wilted then you are probably better off purchasing it frozen.
Life is hectic and we have to be realistic about how much time we have to make
food from scratch. You are better off eating a packet of chopped vegetables then
none at all. Where you can, try to choose whole, fresh, seasonal produce. If your
great grandmother wouldn’t recognize it then it’s probably a food best left off your shelf.