Ever wonder why processed food is so bad for you? It seems like every site on foods is urging us to eliminate processed food from our diet. One of the problems is that the term processed food is rarely defined. In my book, In Defense of Processed Food: It’s Not Nearly as Bad as You Think, I list several potential definitions. I recently came across a statement that “The definition of what constitutes a processed food can vary slightly, but it usually refers to foods that are packaged in boxes, cans or bags.” That is a definition I can embrace, except I would add bottles and jars. Now think back to the last time you ate something that did not come out of a box, can, bag, bottle or jar. There are not many items in the local grocery market that qualify. OK, there are “fresh” fruits and vegetables, but how many of those did not come out of a box or bag in the back storage room? Also think about the ingredients you or someone close to you used to prepare a meal at home. How many of them came out of a box, can, bag, bottle or jar? Ingredients such as crushed organic tomatoes, Dijon mustard, olive oil, sea salt, soy sauce and even raw honey with the comb and raw milk come in packages.
Another perspective of the term states that “The term ‘processed food’ applies to any food that has been altered from its natural state in some way, either for safety reasons or convenience.” From this perspective, home cooking becomes a form of food processing. Thus, anything not picked in the wild or from a garden or shot, skinned and cleaned by the consumer and eaten raw could be considered processed. I am not willing to go that far, as I exclude “fresh” fruits and vegetables as well as raw meats that are displayed in a grocery store or farmers market from the realm of processed foods. Beyond that, I consider any product, including ingredients, that comes in a bag, box, can or jar to be processed. I also consider any bakery product or piece of meat or fish not attached to a carcass to be processed.
Statements like the one below about the nutritional practices of Andy Murray that make him a tennis superstar drive me crazy:
He incorporates high-protein food items such as sushi, peanut butter, yogurt, red meat, and chicken into his diet. He also indulges in rice, pasta, and other foods rich in carbohydrates to provide him with energy for his intense workouts. He prefers nutrient-dense foods over sugary, fatty processed foods.
Since sushi, peanut butter, yogurt, rice, and pasta are all processed foods and even the red meat and chicken processed before he ate them, why doesn’t the author refer to the foods Murray avoids as junk food high in sugar and fat? The implication is clear: high-protein and nutrient-dense foods are good and processed foods are bad. On this site, I will call out authors who demean all processed food without defining the term, address misconceptions about processed food, provide my perspective on issues related to the topic and review books that I think are relevant to these issues. I welcome all serious comments, positive or negative.