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Processed Foods: The Pros and Cons – A Balanced View
In food processing, harvested crops or slaughter animals are used as raw materials to make and package food products that are attractive, marketable and have a long shelf life.
Attractive means that the product tastes and looks good. To be marketable, it must match the types of food that consumers demand. Food products that have a long shelf life reduce waste costs for producers, distributors and retailers.
Development of food processing
Food processing dates back to our prehistory, when fire was discovered and cooking was invented. The different ways in which food can be cooked are all forms of food processing.
Food preservation also began in prehistoric times, and the first “long-life” foods were produced by drying food in the sun and preserving food with salt. Salt preservation was common among soldiers, sailors, and other travelers until canning was invented in the early 19th century.
The ancient Bulgarians invented the first instant food (bulgur) almost 8,000 years ago, when they found a way to boil and dry whole wheat so that the grain only needs to be reheated before it can be eaten.
One of the first ready meals was devised by the ancient Celts when they invented haggis and what is now known as Cornish pie.
Another processed food, cheese, was invented by the nomads of Arabia when they noticed how milk curdles while walking all day with their camels and ponies.
Prehistoric methods of cooking and preserving food remained largely unchanged until the Industrial Revolution.
The development of modern food processing technology began in the early 19th century as a response to the needs of the military. In 1809 a vacuum bottling technique was invented so that Napoleon could feed his troops. Canning was invented in 1810, and after can makers stopped using lead (which is highly poisonous) for the inside lining of cans, cans became commonplace around the world. Pasteurization, discovered in 1862, significantly advanced the microbiological safety of milk and similar products.
Refrigeration slows down the rate at which bacteria reproduce, and thus the speed at which food spoils. Refrigeration as a storage technique has been used for hundreds of years. Ice houses, filled with fresh snow during the winter, were used to preserve food by refrigeration beginning in the mid-18th century and worked quite well most of the year in northern climates.
Commercial refrigeration, using toxic refrigerants that made the technology unsafe in the home, was in use for nearly four decades before the first domestic refrigerators were introduced in 1915.
Home refrigerators gained wide acceptance in the 1930s when non-toxic, non-flammable refrigerants such as Freon were invented.
The expansion of the food processing industry in the second half of the 20th century was driven by three needs: (a) food to feed the troops efficiently during World War II, (b) food that could be consumed in zero gravity conditions during raids. in outer space, and (c) the search for comfort demanded by the busy consumer society.
To respond to these needs, food scientists invented freeze-drying, spray drying, and juice concentrates among a number of other processing technologies. They also introduced artificial sweeteners, dyes and chemical preservatives. In the latter years of the last century came dry instant soups, reconstituted juices and fruit, and the “self-cooked” meals (MREs) so loved by the military brass but not the grunts.
The “quest for convenience” has led to the expansion of frozen foods from simple bags of frozen peas to juice concentrates and elaborate TV dinners. Food processors now use the perceived value of time as the basis of their market appeal.
Benefits of processed foods
Initially, processed foods helped alleviate food shortages and improve overall nutrition by making new foods available globally. Modern food processing offers many additional benefits:
- Deactivating pathogenic microorganisms found in fresh vegetables and raw meats (such as salmonella) reduces foodborne illness and makes food safer.
- Because processed foods are less susceptible to spoilage than fresh foods, modern processing, storage and transportation can provide a wide variety of foods from around the world, giving us choices in our supermarkets that would have been unimaginable for our ancestors.
- Processing can often improve the taste of food, although it can also have the opposite effect.
- The nutritional value of foods can be increased by adding additional nutrients and vitamins during processing.
- Nutritional value can also be made more consistent and reliable.
- Modern processing technologies can also improve the quality of life of people with allergies by removing the proteins that cause allergic reactions.
- Mass food production makes processed foods much cheaper to produce than the cost of making meals from raw ingredients at home.
Processed foods are also extremely convenient. Households are freed from the time-consuming tasks of preparing and cooking food in its natural state… the food processing industry makes everything from ready-to-boil peeled potatoes to ready-to-eat meals which only need to be heated in a microwave. oven for a few minutes.
Processed foods are definitely a big boon. But it’s not all sweetness and light.
Generally speaking, fresh, unprocessed food will contain a higher proportion of naturally occurring fibre, vitamins and minerals than the same food after being processed by the food industry. Vitamin C, for example, is destroyed by heat, so fresh fruit will contain more vitamin C than canned fruit.
In fact, nutrients are often deliberately removed from foods during processing to improve taste, appearance, or shelf life. Examples include bread, pasta and ready meals.
The result is empty calories. Processed foods have a higher ratio of calories to other essential nutrients than fresh, unprocessed foods. They are often energy dense even though they are nutritionally poor.
Processing can introduce dangers not found in unprocessed foods, due to additives, preservatives, chemically hardened vegetable oils or trans fats, and excess sugar and salt. In fact, the additives in processed foods…flavors, sweeteners, stabilizers, texture-enhancing agents, and preservatives among others…may have little or no nutritional value, or may actually be unhealthy.
Preservatives used to extend shelf life, such as nitrites or sulfites, can cause health problems. In fact, the addition of many chemicals for flavoring and preservation has been shown to cause human and animal cells to grow rapidly, without dying, thereby increasing the risk of various cancers.
Cheap ingredients that mimic the properties of natural ingredients, such as trans fats made from chemically hardened vegetable oils that replace more expensive natural saturated fats or cold-pressed oils, have been shown in numerous studies to cause serious health problems. . But they are still widely used due to their low cost and consumer ignorance.
Sugars, fats and salts are often added to processed foods to improve flavor and as preservatives. As diabetics, we are all aware of the effects of excess sugar, fat and on our already damaged systems. Eating large amounts of processed food means consuming too much sugar, fat and salt, which, even if you are in good health, can lead to a variety of problems such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, ulcers, stomach cancer, obesity and of course, diabetes.
Another problem with processed foods is that when low-quality ingredients are used, it can be disguised during manufacturing.
In the processing industry, a food product will go through several intermediate steps in independent factories before ending up in the factory that finishes it.
This is similar to the use of subcontractors in automobile manufacturing, where many independent factories produce parts, such as electrical systems, bumpers, and other subsystems, according to the manufacturer’s final specifications. These parts are then sold to the car plant, where the car is finally assembled from the purchased parts.
Because processed food ingredients are often manufactured in large quantities during the early stages of the manufacturing process, any hygiene problems in facilities that produce a basic ingredient that is widely used by other factories in the later stages of production can have serious effects on the quality and safety of many final food products.
Despite the dangers, today everyone eats processed foods almost exclusively. As a result, people eat faster and no longer seem to be aware of how food is grown and how it is a gift from nature.
It also seems to me that food has become more of a necessary interruption in our busy lives and less of a social occasion to be enjoyed.
Eating processed foods
You can’t get away from eating some processed foods… the convenience is irresistible.
When you eat processed foods, you reduce the likelihood of food poisoning or contracting a foodborne illness. The nutritional value of what you eat can be more consistent, and you’ll likely get more nutrients and vitamins than you would by eating only unprocessed foods.
On the other hand, by eating processed foods you are exposing yourself to a possible loss of heat-sensitive vitamins and nutrients that are removed to improve shelf life, taste and appearance. You are also exposing yourself to the potential adverse health effects of various additives and preservatives, some of which can be very serious.
The calorie density of processed foods, due to the large amounts of sugars and fats they contain, makes them extremely problematic for diabetics and those with high cholesterol and blood pressure.
The only solution is to choose the processed foods you buy with extreme care, reading the labels on the packages, and focus your diet on fresh or frozen products as much as possible.
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