What Exactly Are Healthier Food Choices?

We all want to make healthy food choices. We try to read labels, and we do our best to listen to the food advice given by our scientists and government.

But there is so much conflicting and confusing information that makes it hard to decide what to eat. Some say eat to lower carb intake, some say eat low fat foods instead, others say eat more fat, and the list goes on.

What if the best way to make good food choices is to determine the “extent of processing” to which the food has gone through? In other words, how far has the food changed from its raw state when you are ready to buy it?

The best foods will be the foods that are closest to their naturally raw state. The most unhealthy foods are the ones that are the most processed and which are farthest from the raw state at the time of purchase.

Healthy Food Choices Scale

How do you tell if a food is highly processed? Ask yourself if the food has been subjected to any of these processing methods in the time before you choose to buy it:

• Has the food been: heated, cooked, reduced, pulverized, smoked, tenderized, cured, spray dried, freeze dried, irradiated, dipped in or sprayed with chemicals, physically or chemically transformed , or genetically modified?

• Does the food have any added: soy fillers, colors, flavors, binders, emulsifiers, anti-caking agents, conditioners, preservatives, texture enhancing agents, or other additives? Are the individual food units (ie each cookie or chip in a bag) uniform in shape in size, indicating some sort of manufacturing extrusion? Have the ingredients of the food been processed?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, the food has been processed and is no longer close to its natural raw state, and is arguably less nutritious.

Here’s a handy visual by Healthy Eating Politics to give a picture of this “extent of processing” food scale. If you click on it, it will open a larger version in a new window. Feel free to download and print it out.

A scale like this could easily be deployed on all food packaging, just like the ingredient and calories label that is on foods now.

But it would be tough to get the food manufacturers to agree, since all of their products fall into the category of highly processed food.

Please note that credit for the idea of a food standard giving the “extent of processing” goes to Trenton Smith et al in a paper published here.



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