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What is a Processed Food?

Five Common Questions about Processed Foods

Q: Are processed foods safe?

A: Yes, in fact processing foods often makes them safer. For example, heating foods helps remove harmful bacteria. Pasteurization is a common heating process applied to milk to kill harmful organisms. Canning and freezing foods such as meats, fruits and vegetables helps them to stay fresher longer.

Q: Do processed foods cause obesity?

A: Most nutrition experts agree that no one type of food causes obesity – obesity results from consuming more calories than the body uses, regardless of where the calories come from. To maintain a healthy weight, it’s important to balance calories consumed with regular physical activity and to only occasionally enjoy single portions of treats such as fried foods, snack chips, desserts, candy, fruit drinks and soft drinks. Some processed foods may actually aid with weight management because they include ingredients that reduce the calorie content of foods, such as low-calorie sweeteners. What is a Processed Food? You Might Be Surprised!

Q: Do processed foods lack nutrition?

A: Because processed foods include such a wide range of products, their nutritional values vary widely, too. For instance, frozen vegetables can be more nutrient-rich than fresh because they are picked and frozen at their nutritional peak. Furthermore, processed foods that are fortified with vitamins, minerals or other nutrients can help people reach the recommended intake levels for those nutrients. An example is orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Some processed foods, such as fried foods, desserts and candy, supply calories but few other nutrients.

Q: Are processed foods expensive?

A: Again, the wide range of choices means a wide range of prices. For instance, buying frozen strawberries might be less expensive than buying fresh strawberries out of season, but preparing tomato sauce with home-grown tomatoes in season might be less expensive than buying jarred tomato sauce.

Q: Are any processed foods natural?

A: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t define the term “natural” on food labels, but generally allows the term if the food doesn’t contain added colors, artificial flavors, or other synthetic substances. According to that definition, numerous processed foods could be considered “natural.” These include many fruit and vegetable products, grain and dairy products, and meat, poultry and fish products. A few examples are packaged cooked and uncooked chicken, potato chips, rice, frozen spinach and jarred applesauce.

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