Processed Food vs Food Processing

With the amount of fear-mongering and nutrition elitism that happens around food, I think it’s worth discussing the difference between processed foods and food processing. They are two very different things and produce different results.

Food processing happens all the time, even in your own kitchen. When you take oats and boil them in water, you are processing food. Food processing means cooking it in some way, which typically makes it easier to eat and digest and/or safe to eat. In fact, historically the human race spent 8-9 hours a day hunting and gathering and eating foods. Moving toward a diet with more cooked foods meant that the human race could spend more of their time in other pursuits – like new inventions, medical discoveries and space exploration, just to name a few 🙂 Processing food has worked for our benefit in many ways, and continues to help us maximize our time and be efficient in the kitchen. (In fact there’s a TED talk about it – What’s So Special About The Human Brain?) Food companies often process food for us and a few good examples include quick cooking brown rice, canned beans, frozen fruits and vegetables, etc. When you want to eat healthy but don’t have hours to devote to the kitchen, these can be huge time savers. As a dietitian that believes wholeheartedly in not letting food become a source of anxiety, I recommend using these wholesome short cuts, and many more like them, in your kitchen.

On the other hand, processed foods is taking a wholesome food and processing it in a way that it becomes unrecognizable. It’s taking corn and wheat and making Cheetos. I don’t wish to point fingers, but hopefully you get the picture.

In a society where food is given moral standards and nutrition has turned into a religion, I would strongly encourage you to keep a level head and reasonableness about what is and what is not necessary for your health and well-being. If you enjoy spending more time in the kitchen and would like to use more raw ingredients, please do so! For those of you who appreciate kitchen short cuts and the help of food processing, please know you have every right to use them.  By applying the principles of Nutrient Density, you can avoid looking beyond the mark. No need to make this harder than it needs to be!

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD