When “not all foods fit”, you may have already done countless elimination diets, food trials, or allergy tests. You may not have found your trigger foods yet, or the foods might change daily. One thing’s for sure; eating is not simple. Maybe you’ve been tempted by promises of detoxes or super “clean” eating which will rid you of all your physical and mental illnesses. If it works for you, and you’re not obsessive, then great! But, what about when processed foods become the enemy and you can’t bring yourself to eat them?
First, let’s talk about how we might define processed foods. The International Food Information Council Foundation defines processed food as any food with a deliberate change that occurs before it’s available for consumption. Pretty broad, right? That definition includes freezing or drying food to preserve nutrients and keep the item fresh. Processed foods would then include bagged salads, frozen fruits and vegetables, nuts, coffee beans, canned beans, and nut butters. Of course, processed food also includes your commercially prepared breakfast cereals, baked goods, frozen dinners, chips, candies, and more.
So now it’s clear that pretty much every food you buy is technically a processed food. And since the goal is not to vilify all foods, here’s why processed foods should and can be incorporated into a healthy diet, especially when not all foods fit:
- Convenience Factor
Alright, let’s not pretend we’re not all extremely busy. Sure, you can devote a few hours on a weekend to meal prep for the week, but that’s not always realistic. What happens if you miss that meal prep? Do you need to stress about it during the week? Is that really your top priority? If cooking isn’t something you enjoy, why add so much extra stress to your life? Use the packaged pasta or quinoa, open the bag of lettuce or frozen broccoli, throw in the store-made sauce. You’ve got enough to worry about. Make your life easier whenever possible.
Further, if you’re dealing with a chronic illness or unrelenting depression, of course you’re not going to feel up to cooking. Thank goodness for the people who’ve most of the work for you.
- Ingredient Labeling
When you make your own food, you know exactly what’s in it and if it’s safe for you to eat. However, what if you’re out and need a quick snack? Your options may be choosing between a commercially prepared protein bar or a sandwich from the deli. Sure, you want to trust that there’s no cross contamination at the deli, but that’s often not the case. When you have a serious allergy or an intolerance, you want to always be sure of what you’re eating. The Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 mandates that processed foods must include the top allergens on their labels. The ingredient list, in addition to the allergy labeling, allows you to be sure the product is safe for you to eat.
Plus, if you’re on a meal plan of any kind, the nutrition facts labels are right there for you to look at. No guessing required.
- Consumer Driven Changes
As a Registered Dietitian, I subscribe to several News Briefs for Nutritionists and I’m always seeing new food products that are created to cater to the desires of consumers. These products contain the “clean” ingredients consumers are increasingly looking for, and they’re often just as good as if you were to make them in your own kitchen, but with the added convenience factor. Plus, for those of us who either don’t enjoy cooking or don’t have the space or equipment to do so, these products are the next best thing.
- Mental Health
Both personally and professionally, I have to say that sometimes eating the less healthy processed food option is just better for your mental health. If it’s something you really want and it’s safe for you to eat, never deny yourself. Your mental health and well-being are just as important as your physical health.