The world needs processed foods

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The word “processed” it has become something of an insult.

Say “processed food” and most of us picture cheap, unhealthy junk. Fresh food straight from the garden or the field is good. Once we put it through a processing plant or lab, we remove its halo qualities and add a bunch of bad ones. That means meat substitutes are no better than junk food.

But this perspective is myopic. We will not feed billions a nutritious diet in a sustainable way without food processing The growing backlash against processing is something that neither people nor the planet can afford.

The benefits of processed foods

Processed foods are more than Coca-Cola, dairy milk chocolate, and convenience foods. Most plant and animal products go through some form of processing to turn them into something we can and want to eat. We grind the grain into flour to make bread. We slaughter and bone animals for meat. We pasteurize the milk.

Processed foods have brought us countless benefits, many of which we are quick to forget. iodized salt it is just an example; Iodine deficiencies used to be common throughout the world, causing higher risks stillbirths and miscarriages, significant reductions in IQ and reduced cognitive development. Most of the world now consumes salt with added iodine, and many countries have eliminated this deficiency. By adding nutrients to food, we have been able to address other micronutrient deficiencies.

We have been able to preserve food and increase its shelf life, reducing food waste. We have reduced the spread of foodborne illness. People with food allergies and intolerances can now eat a balanced diet. We don’t need to spend the day preparing food, this has been particularly important for the educational and professional development of women. Last but not least: the taste. Our shelves are now packed with delicious foods.

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Of course, when people talk about “processed” foods, they are often referring to ultra-processed foods (UPF). These snacks and ready meals are designed to have a longer shelf life, convenience and flavor. Corporations work so hard to find the “Goldilocks” flavor profile that we can’t resist by adding sugar and fat to make food as flavorful as possible. Many describe these finely tuned combinations as addictive.

It’s true that increased consumption of ultra-processed foods has been linked to poor health outcomes. It’s has associated with reduced intake of essential nutrients, such as vitamins C, D and B12. The more of these foods we eat, the more more like we are going to be overweight or obese. This puts us at greater risk of health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. Ultra-processed foods are easy to overeat.

The problem with most UPFs is that they are higher in calories, sugar, and fat. And they have less protein and fiber, the nutrients that keep us full.

But this is not inherent in food processing itself. What matters is what corporations add to our food. They can create healthier food if they want to, or if we demand it.

The growing backlash against meat substitutes

One area where I see the biggest backlash against processing is with meat substitutes.

These products try to emulate the meat experience and include vegetable proteins such as soy-based sausages; Impossible and Beyond Meat burgers; proteins made from fermentation, like Quorn, and lab-grown meat.