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February 25, 2014

What is processed food? The surprising truth!

What is processed food? The surprising truth! What is processed food? The surprising truth!

Last updated: February 17, 2014

Catherine Matthews


Category: Healthy eating

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Cakes, ready meals and take aways, all processed food is bad right? You might be surprised by the truth. What is processed food? Find out!
What is processed food?  The surprising truth!

Did you know that on average 70% of the foods in your kitchen are processed? Think processed and you’ll picture the likes of ready meals, cakes and biscuits, but guess what? Calcium-packed yoghurts, antioxidant-abundant berries and veggie-loaded soups are processed too. So what is processed food? “It’s any food that is changed from its natural state”, All kinds of foods are covered by this definition and processing can make some foods more affordable, easier to prepare and extra nutritious.

"Processed food is any food that is changed from its natural state."

What is processed food? The positives of processing!

  • Safety: Dairy products like milk and cheese are pasteurised to ensure they are safe to eat.
  • Fortification: Over this side of the globe it’s difficult to get enough vitamin D because of the depressing lack of sunshine. Manufacturers add vitamin D to foods like bread, milk and orange juice.
  • 5 per day: If you aren’t a fan of fresh fruit and vegetables a soup or smoothie is a handy way of sneaking them into your diet.
  • Budget friendly: Tinned fruit and veggies are often cheaper than the fresh versions. A 430g tin of pineapple costs 65p (79c) while a whole pineapple costs £1 (1.22 euros). Drain the juice/syrup as it has added sugar and calories.
  • Convenience: If you’re rushing to work and don’t have time to prepare a complicated lunch buy a packet of turkey slices and knock up a healthy turkey salad sandwich.
  • Shelf life: Are you tired of binning fresh foods within days of buying them? Make pasta and herbs last longer by going for the dried versions.

What is processed food? The healthy swaps you can make!

Swap this For that Reason
Fruit yoghurt Natural yoghurt Save 1 teaspoon of sugar
Ice cream Frozen yoghurt Save 75 calories plus 5.5g of fat
Milk chocolate Dark chocolate Higher satisfaction due to cocoa content
Fishcake Half tin of wild salmon Save 132 calories and 5g fat
Pepperoni Turkey slice Save 1g salt and 7g fat per serving
Glass of whole milk Glass of skimmed milk Save 70 calories and 7g fat
Streaky bacon Turkey rasher Save 6g fat per serving
Glass of coke Glass of coconut water Save 2 teaspoons (10g) sugar
Tbs of mayonnaise Tbs of mustard Save 11g fat
Pack of salted crisps Pack of Ryvita minis Save 50 calories and earn 3g fibre

What is processed food? Determining the nutrition score!

Tell the good from the bad by checking out your food labels (figures are based on NHS guidelines).

what is processed food - nutrition label

A: Fat

Fat contains double the calories of carbohydrates and protein so watch your intake.

High: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g

B: Saturates

This type of fat may clog your arteries and increase the risk of developing high cholesterol so keep your intake as low as possible.

High: More than 5g saturates per 100g
Low: 1.5g saturates or less per 100g

C: Sugar

With no nutritional value whatsoever sugar doesn’t have much going for it. To make matters worse it’s linked to an increased risk of developing everything from cancer to type 2 diabetes.

High: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g

D: Salt

Most of us eat too much salt which can lead to high blood pressure. 90% of salt comes from processed foods.

High: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)

E: Traffic Lights

Colour-coded nutritional information, as shown in the label tells you at a glance if the food is high, medium or low in fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt.

red = high
amber = medium
green = low
IMPORTANT: The more green(s) on the label, the healthier the choice.

Warning! Check your labels for these ingredients

Trans fat

Also known as hydrogenated fat, trans fats are found in margarine and may increase your risk of developing high cholesterol.

MSG/Monosodium Glutamate

Commonly found in Chinese food, MSG is thought to produce nasty reactions like migraines and numbness in sensitive people.

High-fructose corn syrup

Ketchup and some soups contain this ingredient and research indicates that it’s more addictive than cocaine. Remember that the next time you are lashing half a bottle of ketchup on your sandwich.

What's in your homemade lasagne?

Ingredient Natural or Processed
Oil Processed
Beef mince Check the label for added salt
Beef stock Processed
Onion Natural
Carrot Natural
Dried herbs Processed
Tomato paste Processed
Tinned tomatoes Processed
Black pepper Processed
Bechamel sauce Processed
Lasagne sheets Processed
Cheese – mozzarella, Parmesan etc Processed

What is processed food? Share your healthy foods!

Do your own food audit! Check out some food labels and bin the ones that are damaging your health. Stock up on fresh foods and ingredients which boast high fibre, low sugar, low fat and low salt - look for the green traffic lights.

If you spot any processed foods which tick the nutrition, convenience and budget friendly boxes why don’t you share them with us!