A bad reputation isn’t always fair, but it’s always hard to lose. Just ask an honest politician or a compassionate lawyer how it feels. And if foods could talk, you’d find a fair number of processed foods frustrated by the negative tone that the very word “processed” carries. Imagine what it’s like when mothers warn their children about “foods like you.”
But, bad reputations are usually supported by some facts, and that’s true for many “processed” foods. An article in the current issue of CDiabetes.com by registered dietitian Staci Gulbin reviews many of the negative consequences of processed foods when we are managing (or trying to avoid developing) type 2 diabetes. Foods with added sugar, salt, and fat, grains stripped of their most nutritious parts, and foods that include additives and preservatives only a chemist could love are clearly unhealthy. These kinds of processed foods are often linked to an increased risk for diabetes, and certainly make managing blood glucose levels, blood pressure and other risks for heart disease more difficult for people with diabetes.
But, some processed foods, like some politicians and lawyers, don’t deserve their bad reputation. I explore this issue in a section titled “Unraveling Food Terminology” in my book Diabetes Meal Planning and Nutrition for Dummies (John Wiley & Sons, 2013), and it’s all about the definition of “processed.” We all need to know what kinds of processing make otherwise healthy foods much less healthy, and we need to make avoiding these foods a priority. But, here are a few processed foods we can embrace, and we need to know about these too.
- Frozen fruits and vegetables allow you to have healthy foods handy all of the time. These processed foods are generally just as nutritious as fresh fruits and vegetables as long as there are no added ingredients. Recent studies have revealed canned and frozen fruits and vegetables often contain more nutrients than fresh. The “processing” straight from harvesting helps to lock in the nutrients.
- Pasteurized dairy products prevent serious illnesses like Listeria and E. coli. There is no reason to debate whether raw milk offers nutritional advantages- minimizing the risk for life threatening infections is processing we need.
- Dried fruit, like raisins, is a tasty way to treat moderately low blood glucose. Drying concentrates the sugar so only two tablespoons of raisins will give you 15 grams of carbohydrate.
“Processed” is a word that covers a lot of ground, and the question of whether a processed food is “bad” or “good” often comes down to what’s been added or removed during processing. With apologies to politicians and lawyers, it’s OK to be suspicious of a bad reputation, but it’s always worth looking deeper.