11What Exactly is a Processed Food?

Nutrition writer Michael Pollan has famously written, “Don’t eat anything your great-great-great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” That’s a pretty good way to think about processed foods.

Clearly, your great-great-great mee-maw would take one whiff of the contents of a can of Cheeze Whiz, muster up a huge phleghm ball, and hawk it at the mangy redbone hound that keeps snuffling through her pile of potato peelings.

Neither would she likely have much regard for most breakfast cereals, anything made by Hostess, the meat and organ slurry that constitutes chicken “nuggets,” or little of anything that came from outside the produce and meat aisle of the average grocery store.

Benignly Processed vs. Malignantly Processed

Still, we need to pin down exactly what a processed food is because there are, health-wise, benignly processed foods and malignantly processed foods.

For example, roasted nuts are processed, but the degree of processing is so slight as to be insignificant or non-existent.

On the other end of the spectrum are things like the aforementioned Cheeze Whiz, Hostess products, or the perverse avocado-free guacamole that’s made of modified food starch, corn syrup, and green food coloring.

Ice cream, too, is processed, but the best of the bunch are minimally so, containing only cream, eggs, and sugar, as opposed to the chemical United Nations of crap that are most ice creams.

For the sake of clarity and accuracy, let’s focus on those foods that are malignantly processed.

The 9 Worst Things About Processed Foods

In a recent editorial published in JAMA Pediatrics, pediatrician Robert Lustig argues that processed foods have hurt Americans in several ways, from increasing their intake of refined carbs to causing the rate of diabetes 2 to skyrocket.

I’ll go even further. Processed foods are to blame for most every nutritional problem humans have, along with a good percentage of any medical problems they might have.

Lustig went on to outline a number of ways processed foods differ from unprocessed foods, all of which are undesirable. Here are some of the things he pointed out, including a few things he missed.


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