Nearly all foods have gone through some form of processing before being eaten. Processing can involve harvesting, butchering, fermenting, canning, preserving as well as simply cooking and preparing foods. The processing of foods has many benefits which include improving the safety of food by removing micro-organisms and pathogens, preservation, easier distribution, longer shelf life and allowing a wider variety of foods products to be available all year round. However, food processing also has its drawbacks. Processing can reduce the nutritional content of food depending on the processing methods used. Heat can destroy some nutrients and fibre is removed during the milling of grains. Some processing methods require the use of additives to preserve, stabilize, increase shelf life and improve appearance and taste of the food. Chemicals and artificial products are often used as additives as well as sugar, salt and fat.
Many dietitians and health professionals recommend reducing the amount of processed foods in the diet, while this is beneficial to health it can be difficult with the abundance of processed foods available in modern society.
Choosing minimally processed foods is a more realistic, achievable goal. There are plenty of minimally processed, highly nutritious foods that can be purchased at the supermarket, you don’t need to be buying all of your products at the market, growing your own fruit and vegetables or foraging for mushrooms (however these options are great if you can!). Minimally processed foods are foods that are as close to their natural form as possible. These include fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, nuts and seeds which can easily be purchased in their natural form. However, some packaged foods that have undergone a small amount of processing can be just as healthy and nutritious. When choosing packaged and processed foods choose ones that are as close to their natural form as possible and have been minimally processed.
The best way to fill your diet with minimally processed foods is to choose fresh produce, meats, nuts, seeds, wholgrains and eggs whenever possible and follow these tips to help you purchase minimally processed, nutritious, packaged foods:
Look for products with few ingredients and ingredients that you can understand rather than chemical sounding names or numbers.
Arnotts Jatz Crackers: Wheat Flour, Vegetable Oil, Sugar, Salt, Malt Extract (from Barley), Raising Agents (E500, E330), Yeast, Emulsifier (E322 from Soy), Antioxidants (E306 from Soy, E304).
Sun Rice Quinoa Rice & Grain Squares: Wholegrain Brown Rice (74%), Corn (17%), Wholegrain Quinoa (5%), Wholegrain Buckwheat (2%), Wholegrain Sorghum (2%), Salt.
Choose products that look as close to their natural state as possible.
Breads/crackers with grains and seeds that you can see, cheese that looks like cheese rather than plastic.
Choose products that you could place into one of these food groups:
Beans and legumes
Lean meat, tofu, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds
Milk, yoghurt, cheese and alternatives
Cup A Soup (soup powder that you add water to), Coco Pops or cheese flavored savory crackers wouldn’t fall into any of these groups.
Here are some of my favorite healthy, minimally processed, packaged foods:
Cereal: Goodness Superfoods Barley and Oats. These oats contain only 2 ingredients – Wholegrain rolled barley flakes and wholegrain rolled oat flakes. They are packed full of fibre, are low GI and contain beta glucans which can help reduce cholesterol levels. They really are a fantastic way to start the day!
Quinoa: Celebrate Health Quinoa. Quinoa can be quite bland but this range has some delicious flavours to get your taste buds excited. My favourites are the Lemon and Thyme and Basil and Tomato. They contain natural flavours and are great for people with allergies and intolelrances as they are gluten free, dairy free and nut free.
Beans and legumes: Buying dried beans and legumes requires some to be soaked for 4 hours + and cooked for up to an hour. This is fine if you have the time, but I usually buy my beans and legumes in cans. Many canned beans and legumes are just as nutritious as dried varieties and will often contain only added salt or possibly a firming agent. I try to choose no added salt varieties when possible or else I just rinse them well to remove the excess salt.
Tuna and Salmon: Purchasing fresh fish is always the best option but my pantry always contains tinned tuna and salmon for the times when fresh is not possible. Plus tinned varieties are so quick, easy and versatile to take to work and to keep in your desk drawer or handbag.
Yoghurt: Chobani plain Greek yoghurt. This is my all time favorite yoghurt. It contains only skim milk and probiotics. The straining process means the yoghurt is packed full of protein with 10g/100g serve and it contains no added sugar. I am often asked which is better – low fat or full fat yoghurt and there is no straight forward answer. Including some fat in the diet is important as it helps to absorb some nutrients, is important for cell and hormone production, and it also aides in satiety. I choose Chobani no fat yoghurt as I add my own healthy fats such as nuts when I eat it. When deciding to choose full or reduced fat yoghurt (or milk) think about where you are getting other sources of fat in your diet. No additives are used when removing the fat from milk (or yoghurt). The milk is spun and the fat moves to the top and the skim milk sinks to the bottom and is pumped out.
Cheese: I love cheese! So when it comes to choosing cheese I personally prefer to go for the real stuff in small amounts. I would much prefer to eat a small piece of cheddar, bleu, brie or feta, that contains natural ingredients rather than a 99% fat free, super slim processed cheese that looks (and often tastes) like a piece of plastic.
Rice: Some of my favourite rices include Sun Rice Rice & Quinoa and Rice & Barley. They use brown rice mixed with quinoa or barley. The Rice & Barley is particularly high in fibre and the Rice & Quinoa is a good source of protein. Rice Plus is another one of my favourites. It is a mixture of brown, long, basmati, black and red rice with barely, quinoa and sesame seeds which gives it a high fibre and protein content and it is rich in nutrients.
Frozen Berries: I love eating berries. All types of berries – blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries….And while I do love eating them fresh in summer time I opt for frozen varieties in winter. Frozen fruit can be just as nutritious as fresh as they are usually picked and snap frozen within a short period of time to retain nutrients. As the berries are snap frozen they don’t need any additives or preservatives.
Frozen Vegetables: I love fresh veggies and I make sure my fridge is always packed full of them. However I always have some frozen veggies in the freezer on standby. On the rare occasions when I haven’t been able to restock with fresh veggies or I pull them out and they look a bit lackluster it’s good to know I have the frozen veg ready to go. Frozen veggies are usually snap frozen quite quickly after being harvested which retains the vitamins and fibre.
Crackers: Sun Rice Rice Squares are one of my top picks. They come in quinoa, linseed, brown rice and seeded varieties. They contain a short list of wholegrain ingredients.
Jo @ The Balanced Lunchbox says:
Great Post Alex, good explaination and examples of what to think about with respect to processing. I love your no nonsense info and advice. Thanks.
Thanks Jo I love hearing your feedback. I am certainly trying to show people that healthy eating doesn’t have to be difficult or confusing. And getting feedback like yours inspires me to keep writing more posts! Thanks again 🙂
Great article! Loved reading this and love the message your getting across that healthy eating doesn’t have to be difficult! Oh so true! Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thanks so much Bec, really appreciate the feedback!