The Case for Processed Foods
I need to get something off my chest: Not all processed foods are the devil. Actually, the word “processed” in the world of food is very misunderstood. For me, there is a difference between “processed” and “overly processed.” The latter, in my opinion, is when a food is so far removed from its original form you don’t recognize it at all.
But truthfully, almost everything we eat today has been processed in some way. Milk, yogurt, roasted nuts, canned beans, olive oil, canned tuna and cereal – even a low-sugar, high fiber one – have all been processed. Basically, anything that you find in the supermarket in a box, package, bottle or can is processed.
Don’t get me wrong: I whole-heartedly promote buying fresh fruits and veggies, and looking for grocery items that are as close to nature as possible. However, I am also a realist. And even though I don’t want you buying a food that has a list of ingredients as long as a novel, I do believe some foods you buy may contain an ingredient or two that you’re not 100 percent familiar with. And, just because you don’t recognize that ingredient doesn’t mean it’s harmful. Hey, a product loaded with sodium or added sugar (words you know) can still be harmful.
Here are eight common food additives that you should feel OK if you consider these Healthy Eating Meals Ideas in your grocery cart:
This white powder is created by taking corn or potato starch, boiling it down, and then using acids or enzymes to break the starch down even further. It’s used as a filler and to create texture in many foods such as granola, chips and cereal, and as a thickener for soups, gravies and salad dressings.
Xanthan gum is created by the fermentation of the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris on a sugar, which then creates a gel that’s dried and milled to create the powder substance. It works as an emulsifier, encouraging liquids that normally don’t like one another to mix. It’s also used as a thickener, increasing the viscosity of liquids and batters. Xanthan gum can also help to create a creamy texture in foods such as pudding, whipped cream, yogurt and sorbet.
This compound is used to help prevent food spoilage and as a vitamin C additive. You can find it in most aisles of the grocery store, including in canned jellies, drinks, baked goods, snack foods and some dried fruit. As a preservative, it may appear in breads, cured meats, jams and jellies, and other sauces and spreads.
This additive is used as a leavening agent in baked goods or as a calcium source. Enriched products, including some cereals and soy milk, use it for its calcium properties.
Calcium chloride is used as a firming agent or a calcium source. It ensures that many processed fruits, vegetables (including canned tomatoes) and cheeses retain necessary firmness or crispiness. It may also be found in electrolyte beverages to help ensure uniform taste.
Monoglycerides and Diglycerides
These additives work as emulsifiers – they help mix and prevent separation of ingredients that generally do not blend well, such as oil and water. They are common in salad dressings, peanut butters, margarines and some frozen desserts.
This common ingredient found in baking powder helps control acidity and alkalinity, and prevents spoilage. It’s also used to prevent food particles from sticking together and as a raising agent. You may find it in some beverages, frozen desserts, chocolate and canned foods.
Modified Corn Starch
Modified corn starch can be used as a stabilizer, thickening agent or emulsifier. It’s often found in foods that promote themselves as “instant” and in foods that might need a certain temperature to thicken during cooking or freezing, such as gravy packets and instant puddings.
Bottom line: When food shopping, read the nutrition facts label and ingredients – but also learn to look at the big picture. I would be much more wary of a product that has 1200 milligrams of sodium per serving than one with a single ingredient I don’t recognize.