What is the difference? Definitions vary, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture says anything that changes the fundamental nature of an agricultural product – heating, freezing, dicing, juicing – is a processed food.
Practically all foods undergo some form of processing before they are ready to eat—from simple processes like cutting and cooking to more complex processes like homogenizing, pasteurizing, fermenting, fortifying, refining, hydrolyzing, and extruding. Processing makes raw foods more palatable, minimizes spoilage, changes texture and flavor, modifies nutrient content, and creates convenience.
The Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter says that some processing, like freezing, pasteurization, vacuum-packing, and (non-alcoholic) fermentation have beneficial effects on health: preserving nutrients, increasing digestibility and availability of some nutrients, or preventing food-borne illness. But in other cases, processing has some negative health effects: partial hydrogenation of fat, for example, creates trans fats that have been linked to increased risk for cardiovascular disease; refining of grains reduces nutrient content and creates rapidly digested concentrated starch which increases risk for weight gain, diabetes, and other negative health effects; and addition of excess salt and sugar is tied to a whole host of illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity. Having a clear understanding of these health impacts and what makes a food “processed” is crucial to good dietary decision making.
I have been hearing a lot lately about the new fake meat, plant-based, products that are becoming so popular. Are they really healthier than meat? Here is a super rundown from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Plant-based alternatives to animal-based foods are not a new phenomenon. Tofu, for example, has often been treated as an alternative to meat for centuries. In more recent decades, food companies have processed mixtures of soy and other legumes, grains, and a variety of plants into burgers, nuggets, sausages, and other meat-shaped products. These creations were often targeted towards a vegan or vegetarian demographic, and despite their appearance, were not necessarily intended to completely recreate the taste of their meat-based counterparts.
However, a new generation of plant-based meat alternatives is aiming to do just that. In a recent JAMA Viewpoint, Dr. Frank Hu, Chair of the Department of Nutrition, and co-authors including Gina McCarthy, Director of C-CHANGE at the Harvard Chan School of Public Health, discuss how popular products like Impossible Foods’ and Beyond Meat’s burger patties are aimed to appeal to a broader consumer base with their “unique mimicry” of beef in both taste and experience. They also note how these products are often marketed as a way to “help reduce reliance on industrial meat production,” aligned with recent reports calling for dietary patterns higher in plant-based foods for both human and planetary health.
Can these novel products be considered part of a healthy and sustainable diet? According to the Viewpoint authors, the answer to this question “remains far from clear given the lack of rigorously designed, independently funded studies.” We spoke with Dr. Hu to learn more about the potential benefits and concerns surrounding popular plant-based meat alternatives.
Although these alternative meats are being made from plants, you suggest caution in applying existing research findings on plant-based foods and human health. Can you talk about some of that evidence, and why it’s not readily applicable? Continue reading →
In my 30’s I was a vegetarian who still ate fish and chicken. In those days I was doing tons of yoga and had no trouble keeping my weight down. I also felt great, of course, I was in my 30’s so why wouldn’t I? I thought this study from Loma Linda University was very enlightening.
A new study out of Loma Linda University Health suggests that eating red and processed meats — even in small amounts — may increase the risk of death from all causes, especially cardiovascular disease.
Saeed Mastour Alshahrani, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student at Loma Linda University School of Public Health, said the research fills an important gap left by previous studies that looked at relatively higher levels of red meat intake and compared them with low intakes. Continue reading →
I am not a vegetarian, but I don’t eat a lot of meat generally out of concern for the fats mostly. They can really damage the system. That is my own decision and what you do is your business. It is worth knowing, however, that processed meats are another level up in terms of troubling our bodies. Following is what the Tufts Health and Nutrition Letter had to say on the subject.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 34,000 cancer deaths per year worldwide are attributable to diets high in processed meats. While that number pales in comparison to the one million or so global cancer deaths related to smoking, it is significant enough to warrant a hard look at processed meats in our diets, especially because they are also associated with cardiovascular disease and other health conditions.
Processed Meat: “Generally speaking, a processed meat is one that has been salted, cured, smoked, fermented or undergone other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation,” says Joel B. Mason, MD, professor of medicine and nutrition at Tufts and director of the HNRCA Vitamins and Carcinogenesis Laboratory. Examples of processed meats include hot dogs (frankfurters), ham, sausage, corned beef, deli meats, and jerky. Continue reading →