Why “Avoid Processed Foods” is Bad Advice

Countless internet blogs preach about the dangers of processed food, how eating a diet with processed food will make you gain weight and your health will suffer. Yet anyone who writes this nonsense doesn’t understand the real definition of processed foods (and I bet large sums of money they eat many processed foods) and the benefits they provide.

A processed food is “any food other than a raw agricultural commodity (“food that is in its raw or natural state, including all fruits that are washed, colored, or otherwise treated in their unpeeled natural form prior to marketing”) and includes any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing, such as canning, cooking, freezing, dehydration, or milling (1, 2).” Fruits, vegetables, beans, legumes, livestock – these are all agricultural commodities. And therefore, all of the following are processed foods: frozen broccoli, frozen chicken breast, dried beans, dried pumpkins seeds. Who in their right mind would dare say any of these foods are harmful or will make you pack on the pounds? Someone who has no clue what they are talking about. Not to mention there are many reasons why processed food are healthy:

Versatility

If you want to get a wide array of nutrients and healthy plant compounds (such as antioxidants) you should eat a wide variety of foods. If you take all processed foods out of your diet you’ll only eat what is in season and hasn’t been altered.

Value

Dried beans, oatmeal and rice are processed foods that are very affordable. All cost pennies per serving (about 15 cents for a serving of brown rice). Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are another great example of affordable foods that are picked at their peak of ripeness, preserving nutrition value and flavor. In addition, 100% juice is a bargain, thanks to food processing.

Concord Grapes
Concord Grapes
Welch's 100% Grape Juice made with Concord Grapes
Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made with Concord Grapes

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see a Concord grape farm – where they grow and   process the grapes into Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made from Concord Grapes. Nothing is wasted during this process. The Concord grapes are crushed – skin, seeds and all (so more of the grape is in the bottle) – and heated to release healthy polyphenols (plant based compounds) straight from the grape into the juice. In fact, 40 whole Concord grapes are in every 8 oz. serving of Welch’s 100% Grape Juice made from Concord Grapes. This is important because over a decade of research indicates that, thanks to the Concord grape, 100% grape juice made from these grapes helps support a healthy heart. Because the Concord grape harvest season is very short, lasting approximately 12 weeks, juice processing delivers the benefits of Concord grapes to us year round.

I consider all of these processed foods a good nutrition bargain. Plus, you may end up with less food waste, thanks to a longer shelf life, if you buy canned and frozen produce and poultry as well as 100% juice.

Convenience

In between long days and traveling, there are days I like meals that take me 5 minutes or less to throw together (not to mention if I’m hungry I want to eat asap). Frozen and canned foods allow me to do this. Steamed vegetables? They take about 7 minutes in my stovetop steamer. Canned? Less than 1 minute to open the can (because sometimes I don’t even heat them up). Frozen chicken breast? Perfect, I don’t have to go by the grocery store late at night if there is nothing in my fridge.

So the next time you hear someone say you should eat fewer processed foods, ask them to define “processed food.” And if you read it in a blog, move on to nutrition advice grounded in science.

Disclosure: I am an advisory board member of family-farmer owned Welch’s.

1) 21 U.S.C. United States Code, 2010 Edition, Title 21 – Food and Drugs. Chapter 9 – Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, Subchapter II – Definitions.

2) SEC. 201. [21 U.S.C. 321]. CHAPTER II—DEFINITIONS 1.

Heart Healthy Chocolate Muffins

Just a few weeks ago I had an athlete ask me if he should start eating chocolate for better recovery. If you’ve read the media reports you have probably heard a number of potentially great things about chocolate:

Despite the fact that chocolate may actually be good for us, not all chocolate is created equally. Chocolate candy, for instance, oftentimes has added sugar and fat (and sometimes that horrific manmade trans fat in the form of partially hydrogenated oil).

So, if you want to get the most out of your cocoa or chocolate, choose non alkalized or lightly alkalized cocoa (alkalized is also called “dutched”) or dark chocolate (not milk chocolate – milk binds to chocolate’s antioxidants making them unavailable).

For more information about the health benefits of chocolate, click here. For information about how the process of alkalization affects the antioxidants in chocolate, click here.

I added peanut flour to this recipe for a little more protein. If you want an additional chocolate boost – add chocolate chips or chunks! I always recommend tasting something as you cook or bake it so use pasteurized egg substitute in any recipe you want to taste before it goes in the oven!

Chocolate Muffins

  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup peanut flour
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup unsweetened non alkalized cocoa
  • 1 ¼ cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F and line muffin pan with muffin cups or spray.
  2. Whisk together the butter, eggs, yogurt, and vanilla extract.
  3. In another bowl whisk together both types of flour, cocoa powder, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. Very gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fill muffin tins ½ – 2/3 full.
  5. Bake for 20 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
  6. Let cool on wire rack immediately after the muffins come out of the oven.
If you are looking for peanut flour, you can find it online (Byrd Mill: www.byrdmill.com) in addition to Harvey’s grocery stores in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia; and Whole Foods in Virginia under the brand Montebello Kitchens and at www.montebellokitchens.com. That last one contains a pre-biotic – a unique and very cool option, especially for people dealing with gut issues and those who just want to  promote healthy gut bacteria.