This is my own personal definition of it, and others might disagree, but when I say: I don’t eat canned or processed foods, this is what I mean..
For me, the simplest way to describe it is that processed food is anything that came from a plant that has been modified in some way (added ingredients for preservation for instance), and/or is packaged and not a raw piece of food, fruit, vegetable or legume you are holding.
Raw fruits and vegetables go to plants to be sorted, but then they get boxed and shipped here. They don’t add anything after picking them (but they could add pesticides BEFORE picking them)..
The easiest things to point out as being processed are things that don’t look like their original state:
- Boxed Dinners (Macaroni and Cheese for instance)
- Soups (Anything in a can or a powder form)
- Frozen meals (Pizzas, Lasagnas)
For me however, this also includes canned or frozen foods.
You may think: Why? It’s 100% FROZEN, FRESH CARROTS!! Why would that be considered processed?
The food in cans, sit in chemicals to be preserved. Just read the label.
When you eat canned green beans, they look nothing like fresh green beans — they’re limp, mushy, and a bit browny-green rather than a crisp bright green.
The food that is frozen, has to be chopped, cut, stems peeled off, pits removed, and then flash frozen. That’s processed in some way, although not as badly as canned or boxed foods.
This for example, is UNprocessed food:
THAT MAKES NO SENSE — ALL PLANT/FACTORY FOOD IS PROCESSED?
Even tofu, is something I consider to be processed.
It’s originally a soybean, but suddenly it turns into this lump of tofu?
They have to boil, cook, add limestone and do all these things to soybeans before you get TOFU, and that’s a processed food.
Sauces are another area that people forget that is processed — sauces have to be cooked in big vats, spices added, and then canned or put into jars to be delivered to you.
THAT MEANS YOU DON’T EAT ANYTHING AT ALL THAT IS PROCESSED?
I avoid anything that looks like whole ready-to-go meals in boxes or prepared frozen meals, or sauces, 100% of the time.
I also avoid powders like bouillon cubes or soup mixes, but things like spices that are ground, are fine.
What I don’t avoid is stuff that is semi-processed or as close to natural and raw as possible.
This is where the grey area gets tricky.
For instance, I’d consider frozen vegetables to be semi-processed and okay to eat, except … why would I buy frozen vegetables when I can buy them fresh?
90% of the time, I don’t buy semi-processed foods, but there are exceptions, and where I can’t avoid certain things is like buying mozzarella cheese (or yummy cheese in general!) — I’m not about to make it myself, yet.
I don’t make pasta by myself, but you can tell by whether or not you can see flecks of wheat or flour on the pasta, whether or not it is highly processed or semi-processed.
Really good pasta, is not uniform in colour and tone, and has flecks of the grains that went into the flour to make them, visible.
Really bad pasta, looks bright yellow, very even-toned, uniform, and probably tastes as bland as it looks.
I avoid really bad pasta, I eat the semi-processed pasta.
I also like drinks once in a while (obviously), and they come in bottles or cans, and they are OBVIOUSLY processed.
I also like deli meats, but once in a while.
Semi-processed food makes it into my diet, but I don’t eat like that on a daily basis, and even then, I have to think hard about what it really is.
BASICALLY I TRY TO GO AS NATURAL AND AS REAL AS POSSIBLE IN THE FOOD
If the sauce is bright red, bright orange, bright yellow or any other colour that you know not to be natural (think: Sports Drinks), then it is processed.
Even chefs will tell you things like: Unnatural colours are a sure sign that it’s processed. (Think: Kraft dinner cheese).
Real food tastes better for one thing, but it also means that I’m hyper-vigilant on checking ingredient boxes, thinking about how they make the product before getting it to me (e.g. soybeans to tofu), and what I’ll end up eating.
It also means I generally don’t eat prepared meals, and I am slowly avoiding restaurants for pretty much the rest of my life.
I am also not saying you should do what I do either.
I understand that my view is rather extreme, but it’s great news to me if you start thinking twice about what you eat the next time you go to pick up a sandwich.