Did you know…the less processed food is, the better it is for you?

Editor April 26th, 2011

Processed food. A processed food is one that is no longer in its natural or original state. The ways that food can be processed include: Canning, freezing, refrigeration, and dehydration (drying, such as dried fruit and powdered milk). Processing allows food to last longer and to be easier to transport. However, when this is done by food companies in factories, it can involve adding colors, salt, sugar or other preservatives, which can be unhealthy for you. These substances that are added to make food last longer, such as salt, sugar, and coloring can cause diseases such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and diabetes if too much is eaten.

But, you can process your food yourself without these unhealthy additions. By preserving your own food you can have more control over what you want to eat and save money by buying food in bulk and storing them for long periods of time in a healthy way. Foods that are only available in the spring can be preserved and eaten in the winter. By doing this yourself, you can leave out the extra salt, colors, and preservatives that factories include to preserve foods for even longer periods of time. Meats, vegetables, and almost any food can be preserved by putting them in Ziploc bags or storage containers and keeping them in your home freezer until you need them. All sorts of fruits and vegetables can also be preserved in glass jars using a process called "canning." Foods like fruits and tomatoes are also delicious when they are dehydrated, using a machine that can be purchased at local stores.

Click the links below for more information on how to can and dehydrate your own food:

National Center for Home Food Preservation
How to dehydrate food
Just Food

Unprocessed food. Unprocessed foods usually don't need labels or packaging. Examples include fresh items from a farmers market or a supermarket such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, rice, beans, and fresh meats, poultry, and fish. These foods tend to go bad more quickly than processed foods which often have preservatives to make them last longer. However, these foods are usually the healthiest for you (unless you do the processing yourself as mentioned above).

Here in the US, many of our food options are processed in some way. Because of this, you should consider buying foods that have the least amount of processing since they are usually the healthiest for you.

Here are guidelines to help you choose foods with the least amount of processing:

For Example:

Fresh corn -> frozen corn -> canned corn with No Salt Added -> canned corn low salt -> canned corn with salt

How do I know which foods have the least amount of processing?

There are three simple things you can do to choose the foods with the least amount of processing.

1. Look at the number of ingredients below a food's nutrition label. The fewer ingredients in a food, the closer the food is to its natural state (the less processed it is). If you have a choice between two bags of chips, for instance, always choose the one with fewer ingredients

2. Look at the order of ingredients on the nutrition label. A food's ingredients are listed in order of importance. The higher up on the list the ingredient is, the more of it there is in a food. For instance, the first ingredient listed on the potato chips above is potatoes, which means potatoes are the basis of this recipe.

3. Look for keywords on your food's packaging such as "low sugar,""low salt (sodium)," "no sugar added," or "no salt added." Foods with these keywords on the packaging generally have less processing and are healthier for you. You see this frequently on canned foods, such as canned beans or other vegetables. But be careful, some products that say low-fat or low-salt, may be very high in sugar. Be sure to look at all of the ingredients on the nutrition label!

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