Processed food - the good, the bad and the ugly

Discussion in 'Health and Fitness' started by Frodocious, Sep 30, 2012.

  1. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    One of the first things that people are told when starting a diet or a healthy eating plan is to avoid 'processed' foods. However, this is not always the easiest advice to implement, some processed foods are actually quite good for you and some unprocessed foods should be avoided. There is also the issue of how processed is processed - most of our food these days is processed to some extent, so a certain amount of common sense needs to be applied when choosing to buy or avoid certain types of foods.

    The main aim of this thread is to help clarify which 'processed' foods are OK to include in your diet. I would be grateful if people would add their own recommendations to what they find acceptable.

    Frozen veggies, fruit, meat and fish.

    In many cases these can actually be fresher than the fresh items you buy from the shops. This is because there are rules and regulations that mean that these items have to be frozen within a fairly short time of being harvested, whilst the fresh stuff you buy in the shops may have been sitting round in warehouses or on the shelves for quite some time.

    Buying frozen items can be a quick and easy alternative to buying fresh. If you are eating for one, keeping a supply of several different types in the freezer means that you can easily eat a good variety of foods without worrying about waste. Frozen stuff may work out cheaper to buy than the fresh and it is often prechopped so can be easy to add a handful to your dinner without having to prepare it - great if you come in tired and hungry from training.

    One thing to be aware of with frozen items though is that some of them may have things added to them to make them easier to cook, e.g. I get some chargrilled frozen veggies from Sainsbury's but they do have some vegetable oil added to them. Obviously be aware that breadcrumbed or battered fish may not be a good choice (particularly if you are paleo) and items with sauces can have oils, sugars and other additives added to them for flavour.

    Dried fruit

    Dried fruit can be a good addition to meals but be aware that it contains a fair amount of fruit sugars and read the small print on the pack to see what extras have been added. The stuff you find in the baking isle of the supermarket may have added sugars, candied fruit and even added corn syrup. It may also contain preservatives, which some people prefer to avoid.

    Dairy products and proteins


    These can be a good, cheap way to get extra protein into your diet.

    Unflavoured basic whey is a byproduct of the cheese industry so it relatively unprocessed (if you eat cheese, then I can't see any valid objection to using whey). However, the moment it is added to premade shake mixes the processing level increases, other flavours, sugars, additives and preservatives can be mixed in with it and so that needs to be taken into consideration when choosing a protein mixture.

    Casein is another milk product protein that is relatively unprocessed.


    Milk can be processed to a various degrees. Most of the milk we buy is homogenised and/or pasturised. Homogenisation is a process that breaks up the fat particles to a standardised size, this prevents the formation of the 'cream of the milk' at the top of the bottle. There is a suggestion that the smaller fat particles in homogenised milk are potentially more of a health threat than the larger fat particles found in unhomogenised milk (although the initial studies that suggested this have never been supported by other researchers). If this is an issue that bothers you, then look for milk that is unhomogenised and has the cream layer at the top of the bottle (e.g. Gold Top Jersey Milk). Obviously there are also a variety of fat concentrations of milk around (full fat, semiskimmed, 1%, skimmed etc), be aware that the fat in milk it useful to help with the absorption of fat soluble vitamins so buying the low fat version might not be the healthiest choice.

    Pasteurisation is the process of heating the milk to kill bacteria. It also removes some of the B vitamins (~10%) from the milk, but as these are present in relatively high concentrations this is not really a problem. About 20% of the vitamin C is also removed by this process, but milk is not a major source of vitamin C for most people, so again it is not really a problem.

    UHT is a version of pasteurisation in which the milk is heated to over 135°C for a few seconds, again there is a loss of vitamins with this process and more of the folate is destroyed with UHT than basic pasteurisation.

    UHT is also used for other products - fruit juices, cream, soups, stews, yoghurts for example, and again can remove certain vitamins from the foods.

    Butter - be aware that the 'spreadable' butters have oils (usually vegetable) added to them to make them spreadable.

    Low fat varieties of products - these may not be the healthiest choice, they often contain relatively more sugar than the full fat versions and may have added sugar (or other additives) to enhance the taste. Fat in a product also has the effect of helping with satiety (keeping you feeling fuller for longer), so the full fat product is often a better choice than the more processed, low fat version of the same product. Just be aware that fat is calorie dense, so drowning your veggies in butter might not be the best option if you are struggling to lose weight (however some butter will help you absorb more vitamins from the veggies and help keep you feeling full).

    Processed Sauces

    Sometimes it's easier to open a jar of sauce than faff around making your own. Now I class sauces as fairly processed, but there are some things to look out for if you are going to use them. Try to buy sauces that are low in sugar and that are made from a base of olive oil rather than vegetable oil - this might be one of the occasions where the low fat or reduced calorie version is a better choice, as these often contain less oil and more vegetables (e.g. more tomatoes in the tomato version) than the full fat ones.

    Right so that is the first installment of the 'processed foods' thread. It is obviously not a comprehensive review of all the issues, but more of an introduction and some pointers to the sorts of things to be aware of. Hopefully we can expand the thread with more suggestions, as other people contribute.
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2012
  2. Caleb Demarais

    Caleb Demarais Valued Member

  3. Simon

    Simon Administrator Admin Supporter MAP 2017 Koyo Award

    I've made this a sticky; nice post.
  4. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    And the next installment...

    Fruit juices

    Not one of my favourite 'healthy' options. As mentioned above, the pasteurisation process can remove certain vitamins from the juice, plus you're basically just getting a hit of sugared water. Whilst they are a better choice than fizzy drinks, they are still a calorie containing sugar hit. A better choice would be a homemade smoothie (you get the fibre from the fruit and they're not heat treated - also they're a good use for frozen fruit). Failing that, a shop bought smoothie can be an OK choice (but check what's added and be aware they are usually heat treated).

    That all being said, if you are want a quick and easy breakfast add some whey protein and a fat source (milk, cream, nut milk etc) to a smoothie - you can even take it with you in a suitable bottle if you're in a rush and it's probably a better choice than a heavily processed, sugary cereal...

    which leads me nicely on to


    Do not believe the 'healthy' breakfast marketing. Most cereals are processed within an inch of their lives! The 'fortified with vitamins and minerals' marketing blurb actually means 'they are so processed that if we didn't add something back into them, you'd get just as much nourishment from cardboard'! The wholegrain thing is also a misleading attempt to pretend they are healthy. Most cereals contain lots of sugar and the kiddie's ones are even worse - how anybody can get away with marketing a sugar and chocolate laden food product aimed at children as a 'healthy start to the day' is beyond my ability to comprehend. The same is true of cereal bars, biscuits, snack pots etc.

    If you must have a grain based breakfast, then porridge is a reasonable unprocessed option, add some fruit and/or nuts or nut butter to it and it can be quite tasty (that being said, I like my occasional porridge indulgence to have cream and golden syrup with it! :D).

    The other thing to think about is that breakfast doesn't have to be cereal based. Bacon and eggs, scrambled eggs (with added veggies - frozen work here too), egg 'muffins' are all good choices, as are leftovers from dinner - try to move away from the years of indoctrination you've been subjected to by Kelloggs and be creative!

    You can make your own 'muesli' with nuts, seeds and dried fruit if you want something crunchy (just remember that nuts are calorie dense) and eat with milk, coconut milk or yoghurt. Quark cheese is a good source of protein to add to your homemade muesli.
  5. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    A couple of additions to the previous post...

    Fruit Juices - lurking in the chilled section with the 'pure' fruit juices are things called Fruit Juice Drinks. They are usually in the same style cartons as the juices but the word 'drink' should ring alarm bells. The 'drink' part of the name indicates that what is in the carton is not just fruit juice and the product contains other stuff as well. This is often extra sugar (usually as an addition to the lower sugar, more sour fruit juices such as cranberry juice) but it can also mean other additives and/or preservatives are present. It can be very easy to pick one of these drinks up thinking it is just a fruit juice, but then find out later that it has other stuff in it too.

    Porridge - when I say a reasonable cereal to eat is porridge I mean unadulterated porridge oats, not 'instant oat cereals'. Instant oat products (often marketed as quick and easy microwavable breakfast options) usually contain large amounts of oat flour (as this makes them easier and quicker to cook). The problem with oat flour is that it is another step up the processing chain and is easier to digest than the oats, which will mean that it won't keep you feeling as full for as long as proper porridge. These instant products often contain sugar and other flavourings as well, which brings me round to the term 'flavoured'...

    Flavoured often means that the product contains an artificial flavouring to give it the taste of something else, e.g. 'maple syrup flavoured' is often sugar, (or even high fructose corn syrup) with other flavourings and caramel colouring to make it look and taste like maple syrup.
  6. Lily

    Lily Valued Member

    Hey Frodo, when you stated 'some unprocessed foods are not good for you' what did you mean?
  7. NinjaPlease

    NinjaPlease Ninjas always say Please.

    Thank you for that post! ;)
  8. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    With 'natural' foods it is often the amount that you eat that can potentially be problematic - I'll stress here that for most people who buy their foods in the supermarkets, this is not usually something they need to worry about. However if you grow your own food or go out into the woods to forage for certain foods it is worth being aware that just because something is 'natural' doesn't mean that you shouldn't consider whether or not it is safe to eat.

    For example:

    Kidney beans contain a toxic compound - this can be deactivated by soaking and cooking, but for most people it is easier to buy the tinned processed version.

    Rhubarb leaves can be toxic if consumed (however you would need to eat a huge amount of them to die)

    Foraging for mushrooms can be dangerous if you don't know what you are looking at. Many mushrooms are toxic and it can take an expert eye to distinguish between the good and the bad mushrooms.

    A reasonable list of toxic plants can be found below:

    I'll stress again, that most people are unlikely to be poisoned from these products.

    Other things to be aware of are that certain foods can trigger allergy responses, which can be lethal in some people. Some of the more common foods responsible for allergy attacks are:

    Tree nuts (such as almonds, cashews, walnuts)
    Fish (such as bass, cod, flounder)
    Shellfish (such as crab, lobster, shrimp)
    Citrus fruits (such as kiwi, lemons)

    Eating lots of these foods can bring on an allergy in people who didn't have one, so be aware that living on kiwi fruit and shellfish might not be a good idea! :)

    There are also people who are sensitive to foods, but who don't realise it because their reaction is a very mild discomfort or inflammatory reaction that doesn't affect their daily lives, but when they cut out those foods they suddenly find that the 'aches and pains' they had disappear.
  9. Seventh

    Seventh Super Sexy Sushi Time

    Nooooo, not my cereal!
  10. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter


    Just so everyone knows, the point of this thread is to raise issues surrounding processed (and unprocessed) foods that people may not be aware of. It is not to tell you what to eat, but provide you with some information to allow you to make an informed decision about what you put into your body. There is so much misinformation and biased advertising out there regarding food that choosing what to buy can be a nightmare.

    The types of foods you buy should be based on knowledge, not on what the advertising men tell you. However, as with many things in life, compromises may need to be made based on personal circumstances (money, food availability, lifestyle issues, allergies, personal taste preferences etc). If you have a basic knowledge you can then go out and research a bit more, or ask questions and narrow down the areas in which you are prepared to compromise and the areas in which you aren't.
  11. Seventh

    Seventh Super Sexy Sushi Time

    Shut up, you knowledgeable, sensible, and scientific person ;_;

    *Sobs and eats some Vector cereal in the corner*
  12. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    Whilst on paper I might be all of the above, I'm afraid, at the moment, it's do as I say and not as I do! My diet has gone horribly wrong over the last few weeks - far too much cake (amongst other things)! :)
  13. righty

    righty Valued Member

    I'm actually interested in the sauce bit. I've been struggling to find sauces, particularly marinades or things that can be added to stirfrys. I've found some good tomato based ones (ingredients: tomato and herbs only) but still struggling to add some flavour to stirfrys because they all contain so much sugar. Even the homemade recipes I have found have a bunch of sugar in them.

    Any recommendations or suggestions?
  14. Simon

    Simon Administrator Admin Supporter MAP 2017 Koyo Award

    I add things like garlic, chilli, ginger, soy, peppercorns etc.

    You can fry (and probably grill) chiritzo until crispy, then finely dice when cold. This makes a nice topping to a stir fry or salad.
    The oil from the choritzo can be used for the stir fry and gives another flavour addition.
  15. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    I'm not the best person to recommend homemade sauces, because they are often the things I cheat on and shop buy. In the UK M&S have a range made using olive oil rather than vegetable oil. You could try looking for speciality ranges or even diabetic ones, but I think there will always be a trade off to be had with shop bought sauces.

    Simon's suggestions are good, or you could try looking up some of the paleo/primal sites for recipe suggestions (Mark's Daily Apple etc).

    One of the things I've recently discovered is the joy of high quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I bought some single estate first press, cold pressed oils infused with different things (basic, garlic and one with a mix of chili, coriander, bay leaf and something else) and the flavour difference between them and the bog standard shop ones is amazing. I use them for drizelling over salad or glazing meat with. I would use them as a basic frying oil though. The flavoured balsamic vinegars I bought are also spectacular - they're so good I could almost drink them neat.
  16. flaming

    flaming Valued Member

    Ripe pineapple in a food processor and a tiny bit of rice vinegar makes what tastes like sweet and sour to me.

    For black bean sauce fry some fermented black beans, ginger and garlic. Then add some veg stock. A bit of brown rice flour to thicken it.

    For hoisin boil some chopped dates in water that just covers them for several minutes. Then wait for that to cool and put it in the food processor. Fry some scallions, garlic, once they are just about to turn brown add ginger, chilli and a few star anise. Wait a minute then add the date mixture. Simmer for several minutes add a little soy sauce and sesame oil. Take out the star anise - I eat them.

    Curry sauces can be easy if you fry some Thai paste and add coconut milk for Thai. Or fry onions then add curry powder and add either coconut milk, chopped tomatoes, or some fruit mango or banana. They can be more difficult if you want to use all the whole spices, toast them grind them waist of time :woo:
    Last edited: Oct 4, 2012
  17. Boardeaux

    Boardeaux Valued Member

    This thread is really interesting.

    What do you know about Vegetarian meat substitues like Quorn? On the face of it Quorn seems very healthy but I would imagine it is also highly processed?

  18. Frodocious

    Frodocious She who MUST be obeyed! Moderator Supporter

    Whoops, not got round to replying to this till now.

    Quorn is highly processed. It's basically a fungus grown in a vat. However, if you eat mushrooms, blue cheese or drink beer, I don't really see there being much of an objection to quorn. It's an excellent source of protein for vegetarians - apparently it contains all the essential amino acids, and the texture is similar to meat if that's something you miss being a non-meat eater.

    There are some people who are allergic to it (or to the binding agents used in its production - eggs for example) and it is relatively low in iron, so keep that in mind when using it as a meat substitute.

    The potential problems come when buying it as a premade meal, then it is an idea to investigate what additives and flavourings are used to give it the flavour.

    As with most food products, I would ignore the advertising claims about it being 'low fat so good for you' etc
  19. Jesenia Cairo

    Jesenia Cairo New Member

    Wow this is a very informative post! thank you for sharing this!
  20. belltoller

    belltoller OffTopic MonstreOrdinaire Supporter

    Glad someone digging 'round the tombstones - woulda missed this one.

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