WASHINGTON — What’s one thing Twinkies, chips and frozen pizza have in common?
All of these items fall into the category of “processed foods.”
Over the years, processed foods have developed a stinging reputation in the health and nutrition world. The term is often linked to packages of snacks that are loaded with salt, sugar and fat — three things that wreck havoc on a healthy diet.
But Joe Clayton, CEO of the International Food Information Council, wants consumers to know that not all processed foods are bad. In fact, some are healthy.
“Processed and packaged food can be filled with the same sort of nutrients that you can get at a farmers market,” Clayton said.
“Just because it’s in a package or just because it’s in a box doesn’t mean it’s bad for you and doesn’t mean you can’t get great nutritional outcomes from your shopping.”
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics defines processed food as any food that has been purposely changed in some way before consumption, including anything cooked, canned, preserved or fortified.
Bagged spinach, frozen vegetables, canned beans and whole grain cereals are all considered processed foods. So are popular vegan and vegetarian staples, such as tofu, plant-based proteins and veggie burgers.
“It used to be that when you ate a bowl of cereal, you didn’t have access to the nutrients that are now in cereals — nutrients like B vitamins and zinc and magnesium that come from fortification of packaged foods,” Clayton said.
To help debunk some of the hype and hysteria generated around processed foods, Clayton and his colleagues at the International Food Information Council launched a new campaign, called Process This.
The campaign doesn’t advocate that consumers eat only packaged foods. (There’s no way around it, a Twinkie-only diet is not healthy.) Rather, it encourages consumers to educate themselves on what they’re buying.
“Our focus is really to get consumers to understand that just because food has a scientific name or it’s something they don’t understand, doesn’t mean it’s dangerous,” he said, adding that even hard-to-pronounce names shouldn’t be feared.
Vitamin E, for example, often goes by the name alpha tocopherol on an ingredient panel when used as a preservative.
“You should look at the label and make sure that you’re getting what you want and that you understand it,” Clayton said.
“There are lots and lots of ways to achieve a balanced, nutritious diet, and there are a lot of sources for balanced, nutritious food.”
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