Processed Foods: Easy Isn’t Always Safe

Posted: August 30, 2015 in Nutrition

These days it is very hard to avoid processed foods, they happen to be everywhere from pre-cooked meals to frozen dinners, salad dressing, BBQ sauce, ice cream, whipped cream, fries and even frozen vegetables.  With processed foods having the advantage of being easier to store, having less preparation time and are able to keep for much longer time periods than non-preserved foods.  It means you don’t have to make as many trips to the store and have less risk of the food you buy going off before it is used; therefore in the long run saving you time and money.

Yes, it is hard to deny the convenience of processed foods, but is this ease really worth the potential risk processed foods may cause to your health?

The body needs certain nutrients and minerals to function properly, and the more the food is handled, the greater the chance that it would have lost a lot of essential nutrients that are necessary for the human body.  Although companies try to put the nutrients that have been stripped from the processed foods back in, this usually results in a synthetic version of vitamins and minerals and the foods generally have a much lower nutrient content than they had before being processed.

One of the nutrients you don’t need to worry about lacking while eating processed foods however,  is sodium nitrate.  Companies use this to increase shelf life and make the foods appear fresh.  But the added sodium can increase your risk for stroke, heart disease, insulin resistance, which can lead to the development and progression of type 2 diabetes and also affects your blood pressure.  Unfortunately these 4 issues are the top reasons for early mortality in Barbados, and can be avoided by simply altering your diet slightly. 

Studies done by the National Cancer Institute in Maryland found that eating processed foods preserved with sodium nitrate in childhood can also increase your risk of cancer later in life.  Sadly not every processed food can be avoided, but considering that Barbados has an abundance of natural fresh resources this is a major advantage because you have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables that contain all of the vitamins and minerals needed.

Some processed foods are better for you than others though, certain breakfast cereals, juices, breads and soy products are often fortified with vitamins and minerals.  The best way to ensure that the processed foods you are picking up are the best for you is to avoid the foods rich in added sugars such as canned fruit stored in heavy syrup and also colourful cereals, as they are less nutritious.

Picking up breads, rice, cereals and pasta that lists ‘whole grains’ as the first ingredient will ensure ample fibre and nutrients. To maintain a low sodium intake, choose low-sodium or no-salt-added canned beans, vegetables and soups. Other nutritious processed foods include natural peanut and almond butters, water-packed tuna and salmon, and low-fat yogurt.

Avoiding processed foods is extremely difficult to do, so remember everything in moderation, and try to eat as many fresh fruits and vegetables as possible.

Become the face of fitness you’ve always wanted and remember that easy isn’t always safe!

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