You are not going to believe the headline I came across today. The American Society for Nutrition (ASN) came out with a statement that said that processed food is a necessary part of the American diet.
What? Are they cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs (literally)?
This is an absolutely ridiculous statement to make. Especially at a time when two-thirds of Americans are grossly overweight or obese. They should be ashamed of themselves. Although, considering so many members of the ASN happen to have ties to the processed food industry, I suppose it’s not all that surprising.
And their justifications are just as skewed as their motives.
They say processed foods ensure Americans have enough to eat. A noble sentiment. But the fact is, the vast majority of people in this country have far too much to eat. Statistics show roughly 1 in 6 Americans go to bed hungry. And while no one deserves that fate, are nutritionally devoid, processed foods really the answer?
They went on to add that, thanks to “fortification,” processed foods ensure that the nutritional guideline requirements are met. Sure, the paltry amounts of nutrients added to these foods may “meet” the U.S. government’s nutritional requirements. But those requirements are woefully inadequate, outdated—and, frankly, just plain stupid.
They did hedge their bets a bit by adding, “but when consumed inappropriately or at inordinately high proportions of a total diet, [they] are deleterious to health.”
Now, if processed foods were really such bastions of nutrition, the ASN wouldn’t need to make a disclaimer like this.
Essentially, they could have boiled this whole blathering statement down to one line: You’re eating this crud anyway, so just keep on going. Because that’s exactly what it’s REALLY saying.
The real problem with this blanket statement is that it doesn’t differentiate between “processed” vs “minimally processed” foods.
Technically speaking, putting organic carrots into a bag can be considered processing. Butchering meat is processing. The making of cheese is processing.
So, some level of food processing is inevitable.
But as far as the ASN is concerned, these TRULY healthful, minimally processed foods are the same as a loaf of Wonderbread.
According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC), there are actually four categories of “processed foods”:
1.) foods that are processed to preserve freshness (e.g., canned salmon and frozen fruits and vegetables)
2.) foods combined with sweeteners, colors, spices, or preservatives (rice, cake mix, salad dressing, pasta sauce, etc.)
3.) “ready-to-eat” foods (breakfast cereal, yogurt, rotisserie chicken, granola bars, cookies, crackers, sodas, etc.)
4.) prepared foods (deli foods, frozen meals)
The IFIC further identifies a “minimally processed” food category, which includes washed and packaged fruits and vegetables, bagged salads, and ground nuts.
Unfortunately, most of the processed food being eaten in this country isn’t the minimally processed variety.
In fact, a study based on data gathered from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from 2003 to 2006 showed that of the processed food in the average diet, 57 percent was more than minimally processed. In fact, a mere 14 percent fell into the “minimally processed” category.
Furthermore, processed foods contributed 57 percent of overall calories, 52 percent of saturated fat, 75 percent of added sugars, and 57 percent of sodium to the average diet.
That’s a lot of numbers—and none of them are good.
And it only makes things worse that the bozos from the ASN actually recommended packaged, frozen meals (like Jenny Craig, Lean Cuisine, and the like) as being “nutritionally balanced.” Please!
Have they ever read a label on those things? Fifty-seven ingredients (most of them unpronounceable) to make “beef tips with Portobello mushrooms”? How can that possibly be nutritious?
Bottom line: As I have always said… choose food that is fresh, local, seasonal, organic when possible and—despite what some “experts” tell you—minimally processed.
“Processed foods: Contributions to Nutrition,” Am J Clin Nutr 2014; 99: 1525–42.