All of the above. That is the right answer. Yes, even your homemade orange juice, to which you don't even add sugar, qualifies as processed food. Surprised, right?
It's funny how we invariably associate processed food with all that ails us, right from the jeans that don't quite fit, to the lack of an appropriate suitor. Blame the processed food for the fat on our hips. Blame them for the raging hormones that skyrocket our tempers.
If only we took the time to really understand what processed food means!
It's really simple. Anything that is 'processed' qualifies as processed food. Therefore, those organic oranges that you wonderfully squeezed the juice from this morning, underwent a process, and is thus 'processed food'. Just like the spinach you blanched, and the almonds that you slightly toasted at home. Would you think of these as unhealthy?
Nit-picking will not get us too far on the course of healthy living. And if we keep picking on our food, mulling whether we're going to drop dead after taking a bite, we seriously need to wake up to the reality.
In this day and age, it is hard to completely escape processed food. No, we can't keep a cow to serve our milk needs. We definitely can't have a poultry farm and a vineyard too. Trips to the supermarket are an integral part of our lives today, and we might as well make our peace with it.
Also, we've got to stop equating processed with unhealthy, as a lot of the stuff we eat needs to be processed in order to be deemed fit for consumption. Heard of pasteurized milk, anyone?
Let us, for once, stop treating processed food like the villain it actually isn't. For instance, think of packaged milk, or fortified fruit juices that include calcium and vitamin D. Even whole grain bread is a healthier alternative to bread made from refined flour. Canned vegetables and fruit can be an option during winter, when fresh stocks deplete. Also, chopped veggies can be an easier option for those always on the run – some vegetables are always better than no vegetables at all.
As mentioned above, the key to eating to maintain good health lies in moderation. Overdoing anything can cause detrimental effects, be it processed or raw. But in case of processed food, there are a few pointers that you should definitely watch out for.
We mistakenly believe that sugar is only needed to provide sweetness, but it is also used generously in processed food to give it that caramelized glaze. The sugar in our processed food may come in the form of high-fructose corn syrup or natural cane sugar; we need to steer clear of it.
Processed food items need preservatives to prevent them from going bad. Sodium, being a preservative, happens to be one such ingredient that processed food can't do without. Sodium, of course, is that little something linked with the incidence of hypertension. Eliminating processed food is not the solution here. Instead pick up packs that have low sodium printed on them. Also, rinsing canned vegetables may help you get rid of the added salt to a significant degree.
Fats are useful when it comes to prolonging the life of processed food. Unfortunately for us, they only help in decreasing our lifespan on the whole. And don't fall for the 'zero trans fats' line, mind you, because according to the FDA, a product can still claim it has zero trans fats if each serving has less than half a gram of the fat.
On the whole, one just can't lay enough emphasis on the concept of moderation. It is not recommended that you throw caution to the wind and overindulge. Neither can you live your life like a hermit, completely turning your back on all things processed. Strike a balance, exercise a bit, laugh a lot, and you'll be just fine.