How Would You Define A Processed Food?
By: Devy Sri Winarsih (IAAS LC UNS)
Food processing is defined as the practices used by food and beverage industries to transform raw plant and animal materials, such as grains, produce, meat and dairy, into products for consumers. Nearly all food is processed in some different way. Examples include freezing vegetables, milling wheat into flour and frying potato chips. Slaughtering animals for meat is also sometimes considered a form of food processing.
Although some forms of food processing use the latest technology, food processed has been practiced for centuries traditionaly. Early Egyptians brewed beer and discovered how to bake leavened bread. The ancient Greeks made salted pork, a precursor to ham. Modern food processing is sometimes defined as taking place at a plant or factory. This is distinct from food preparation which usually takes place in kitchens. Many activities such as washing and cooking are common to both processing and preparation. The companies that process foods are sometimes called food manufacturers.
Not all foods undergo the same degree of processing. The processed foods are classified in three categories, that is minimally processed food, processed food ingredients and highly processed food. Even though there is no universally accepted method of categorizing processed foods, it will helpful to make the distinction between foods like toaster pastries which are highly processed; flour which is a processed food ingredient; and milk which is generally considered minimally processed. These distinctions allow for a more nuanced of processed food.
Fruit, vegetables, nuts, meat and milk are often sold only in minimally processed forms. Foods sold as such are not substantially changed from their raw, unprocessed form and retain most of their nutritional properties. Minimal forms of food processing include washing, juicing and removing inedible parts. Some nutritionists also characterize freezing, drying and fermenting as minimal forms of processing. Due to prolong shelf life and inhibit the growth of pathogens, perishable foods may have preservatives added or they may be sealed in sterile packaging. Some minimally processed foods and beverages may be exposed to controlled amounts of heat or in some cases radiation to inactivate pathogens. Milk, for example, is commonly heat pasteurized. After purchase, consumers may cook these foods and mix them with other ingredients as part of their preparation.
This processed food ingredients includes flours, oils, fats, sugars, sweeteners, starches and other ingredients. High fructose corn syrup, margarine and vegetable oil are common examples. Processed food ingredients are rarely eaten alone; they are typically used in cooking or in the manufacture of highly processed foods. To create these ingredients, starting materials such as grains and oil seeds may be milled, refined, crushed or exposed to chemicals. Unlike minimal forms of food processing, these techniques radically change the nature of the original raw materials. Processed food ingredients tend to be nutrient-poor, it’s meaning they are high in calories relative to the amount of vitamins, minerals and other key dietary nutrients.
Highly processed foods are made from combinations of unprocessed food, minimally processed food and processed food ingredients. Many are designed with consumer convenience. They are often portable, can be eaten anywhere (while driving, working at the office and watching TV, for example) and require little or no preparation. Highly processed foods include snacks and desserts, such as cereal bars, biscuits, chips, cakes and pastries, ice cream and soft drinks; as well as breads, pasta, breakfast cereals and infant formula. Highly processed foods are made using techniques like mixing, baking, frying, smoking and the addition of vitamins and minerals. Given the wide variety of foods that could qualify as highly processed and the lack of any clear, widely accepted criteria for defining them. Some health professionals however have expressed concern over the growing popularity of certain highly processed foods in diets.
Although highly processed foods are not inherently and unhealthy. Many foods in this category are high in added sugar, sodium, saturated fats or trans fats and contain little dietary fiber. Some of these foods such as cakes, cookies and soft drinks are among the major sources of calories among adults and children. Breads and snack foods are often made with refined grains which contain important nutrients like B-vitamins, iron and fiber. Since fortification replaces only a small fraction of nutrients in the diet, 100 percent whole grains and other whole foods are recommended over refined alternatives. The convenience that many highly processed foods offer may also encourage unhealthy eating patterns, such as skipping meals and over consuming calories. “Premium” versions of highly processed products exist, such as those with less sugar, fat or salt, no trans fats and various fortifications. Some of these may be an improvement while others simply replace reduced levels of fat with higher amounts of sweeteners. Premium products also tend to be more expensive, making them available only to those who can afford them. Given these concerns, some nutritionists recommend diets based primarily on unprocessed and minimally processed foods.
Most of our food has been processed to some degree, sometimes using techniques that have been practiced for centuries. Processing food offers many benefits: It can enhance preservation, reduce food safety risks and create greater variety in the food supply. However, the practices and ingredients used in some highly processed foods raise dietary concerns. Furthermore, the nature of the current food processing industry can have a negative impact on food safety, worker justice, the economy and the environment. Addressing these problems will require concerted efforts on the part of consumers, workers, businesses, policymakers and other stakeholders in the food system.
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