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Processed Food

Is ‘processed’ a four-letter word?

An article published in Advances in Nutrition explores the role of processed foods in meeting the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Additionally, it aims to address the widely held misconceptions about processed foods, a situation that presents challenges to both food scientists and nutritionists and public health professionals alike. [Click graphic to enlarge]

Foods are processed to have longer shelf lives as well as no or limited preparation. However, as the authors point out, processing can also confer many other important benefits.

For example, pasteurization of milk reduces the risk of dangerous microbial pathogens and blanching and freezing vegetables immediately after harvesting preserves peak nutritional values. Processing also enables manufacturers to eliminate gluten and lactose from foods, providing more options for consumers with celiac disease and lactose intolerance.

The authors note, too, that the enrichment and fortification of processed foods has helped more people meet the Estimated Average Requirements for vitamin A, thiamin, folate, and iron.

The authors describe that many consumers do not realise that almost all foods that they consume are processed to some degree. Some foods, such as grains, for example, must be processed in order to be palatable. Moreover, food processing has historically provided a safe, abundant, and affordable food supply that is essential to public health.

The authors note that the “mischaracterisation of processed foods and food technology as unnatural, unsafe, and/or nutritionally inappropriate by some health professionals, advocacy organizations, and the media further makes the task of motivating consumers to eat more healthfully challenging.”

The challenge that nutritionists and public health professionals face is to help consumers better understand food processing, clear up misconceptions, and guide them to healthy choices within the myriad of fresh and processed foods. On the other hand, the challenge to food scientists is to create processed foods that are both healthy and appealing to consumers. The authors explain that not all processed foods are created equal. For example, a fast-food burger with all the trimmings may not be a good choice, but frozen broccoli generally is.

“Is ‘Processed’ a Four-Letter Word? The Role of Processed Foods in Achieving Dietary Guidelines and Nutrient Recommendations in the US” was presented as part of a symposium given at the Experimental Biology 2011 meeting in Washington, DC.

See the abstract here [article can be bought]

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