Not all processed foods are bad for you

Loaves of bread

My gym trainer recently told me that he avoids bread because it is processed. But bread (especially the whole grain variety) is a wonderfully nutritious food – in fact, it’s one of my pantry staples. I couldn’t imagine a day without my lunchtime sandwich. So what’s the problem with processed foods? And why are they perceived as bad or less healthy?

The truth is that most foods undergo some form of processing. For example, milk is pasteurised and homogenised (it’s unsafe otherwise), yoghurt is made using live bacterial cultures, and the ingredients of bread (which, of course, is baked) include various additives that improve its shelf life.

There are many different types of food processing, such as canning, fermenting, grinding, milling, pickling and cooking, to name a few. These processes can enhance certain flavours, improve the safety of foods and increase their shelf life. Ensuring food safety in the food supply is paramount. Some processes can eliminate microorganisms and pathogens to safeguard us from foodborne illnesses. We should all be grateful for that!

Nevertheless, food processing may alter the nutritional content of certain foods. Heating can destroy some nutrients. Further, milling strips some grains of their fibre. And certain additives, salt, stabilisers, thickeners and sweeteners that are not usually nutritionally beneficial can be added to foods to improve palatability and extend expiry dates.

Yes, it is true that last year the World Health Organisation reported a link between a high intake of heavily processed meats and colon cancer. Foods such as bacon, deli meats and sausages were in the firing line. These foods are heavily processed and high in preservatives, other additives and salt. Limiting one’s intake of these types of foods is wise.

However, we must make a distinction between processed foods such as bacon, hot dogs, jerky, smoked meats, sausages and cold-cut meats and the processing that involves steaming and canning beans. You don’t need me to tell you that tinned legumes are a healthier choice than tinned ham; that goes without saying. Eating food closest to its natural state will always be best.

So what to do with this information? Well, I know what I will be doing. I will continue to opt for fresh fruit and vegetables when I can, but I won’t stop eating baked beans, canned fish and frozen vegetables. I certainly won’t be giving up my lunchtime sandwich, either. And I suggest that you don’t either.

As for my personal trainer, who avoids bread because it’s processed, he’s missing out on low GI carbohydrates, fibre and a range of vitamins and minerals, including thiamin, folate and iodine and potassium. And that logic is hard to process.   

  • Emma
    Posted at 16:42h, 05 July Reply

    What exact kind of while grain bread do you eat please?

    • thenutritionguyadmin
      Posted at 06:48h, 06 July Reply

      Hi Emma,

      Thanks for your question. I eat a variety of different bread. I choose one made with whole grain flour (rye, spelt, whole wheat) and I also like one with seeds through it.

  • Emma
    Posted at 07:44h, 21 August Reply

    Thanks ? I like to buy the Edwards sourdough but it’s harder to get so I end up buying wonder white wholemeal with the added iron (I’m often deficient) is this bread a bad idea? It doesn’t contain artificial colours flavours or preservatives And says the flour is unbleached . Thanks

    • thenutritionguyadmin
      Posted at 07:46h, 25 August Reply

      Hi Emma,

      Thanks for your question. The Edward’s sourdough is a lovely option. Many healthy bread options are available – it’s best to choose one made from whole grains. Also, iron is found in red meat, whole grains, legumes, dark green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, fortified cereals and dried fruit. You might like to include these foods in your diet regularly.

  • Emma
    Posted at 08:43h, 30 August Reply

    Great! thank you . I also just found the burgen whole grain and oat bread which is really nice too and easier to find . Ok we won’t but the wonder white anymore ? Thanks.
    Will stick to weetbix for my fortified option . I eat a lot of red meat and still had to have iron infusions. I had to have Two in 3 months.
    Thanks ?

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