How much do you know about processed foods?
Processed foods are eaten by almost the entire world, in some capacity. The word ‘processed’ suggests these types of food go through some kind of chemical modification, normally to help add to their shelf life. These processes of course stop these products from being 100% ‘natural’.
Considering the current rhythm of life, it is unsurprising that processed foods have become ever more popular. The food industry has adapted to this demand, unfortunately meaning in some cases, their products end up losing some of their nutritional value. .
In this evolution, for example, new labels have been added to catalogue foods, such as "light" or "low fat", in view of the growing concern to eat a healthy diet. But do we really know what we are eating?
‘Light’ products were introduced to the European market during the 1980s and have around a 30% reduction in energy value in contrast to their ‘non-light’ companions. These ‘light’ products are marketed as ‘healthier’, but is this really the case? The reality of ‘light’ options are that they contain a large number of additives that end up calling into question this label of ‘healthy’.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) established an official classification for foods according to their level processing. There are three main groups: natural and minimally processed foods, processed ingredients, processed and ultra-processed foods.
In this last section, WHO warns that ready-to-eat foods (the most highly processed) are the most harmful. They are nutritionally unbalanced, due to their high doses of saturated fats, salts or sugars. They can also easily modify our consumption habits, and even cause an addiction to certain foods.
Some of the most famous processed products hide a slightly strange preparation process. Many processed foods offer a false impression that they are healthy, when in fact some can be quite detrimental to your health - especially if eaten in large quantities.
Cream cheese was invented in New York, USA in 1872. It’s made by adding adding lactic acid bacteria to cream (or sometimes a combination of both milk and cream). A few other additives, flavour enhancers and salt are also added to complete the mix. Cream cheese has become so popular that you can find it in a range of different flavours with added herbs, fruits, blue cheese and even salmon. Unfortunately cream cheese can raise cholesterol levels and cause high blood pressure due to the fact it’s 80% fat and has a high salt content.
Packaged sausages are usually made from the leftover parts of a pig including, blood, guts, organs and of course, head meat. Other meat off cuts can also be added, such as chicken. Sausages also contain starch, corn syrup, salt and other artificial additives. Sausages do not contain very much ‘real’ meat and is considered one of the most processed foods in the world.
Soft drinks are usually made up of considerable amounts of sugar. A can (330ml) of Coca-Cola for example, contains around 35g of sugar, plus artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or saccharin, caffeine, different acids, carbon dioxide, flavourings and preservatives. Excessive consumption of sugar filled soft drinks can increase the chances of becoming overweight or obese.
You may be familiar with crab sticks from salads or other seafood dishes. But are crab sticks actually made from crab? In short, no, not really. Crab sticks are made from surimi, which is a mixture white meat fish (haddock, hake, mackerel...). These fish parts are washed, mixed together, shredded, cooled and heated repeatedly, until finally a white gelatinous paste is created. Preservatives, starch, salt and other unnatural sweeteners are added. The final white paste is frozen and decorated with dyes, creating the typical red/orange exterior. A process, which is perhaps more time consuming than you may have imagined.
Are pâtés made of duck liver? No. It is only the extravagant foie gras that is truthfully made from duck or goose liver. Animals used to make foie gras are fed in a "specific" (perhaps it could be said excessive) way to make their livers grow abnormally large, which is what makes this supposed ‘delicacy’ so expensive. Basic pâtés that you can find packaged in the supermarket are made of a mixture of animals, such as pigs, cows, or chickens. Spices, milk, flour and some preservatives are added to the processed meat to create the final product.
Many types of ‘fruit’ juice you can find in supermarkets rarely contain significant amounts of actual fruit (estimated at around 10%). Fruit juices loose large aspects of their nutritional goodness due to added sugars and other artificial flavouring and large quantities of added sugars.
Gelatine is a yellowish substance that has little odour or taste and is made primarily of collagen (a protein found in bones). Gelatine is made by boiling a mixture of skin, cartilage, and bones from animals and then is passed through an acid bath until ‘ossein’ (a protein like) substance is formed. This substance is then kept in lime for 4 to 10 weeks, then sterilised, cooled and solidified into a powder. It is this powder than can be added to water and made into the ‘jelly’ like substance that you may be familiar with.
Did you know? The animal parts used to make gelatine are usually the ‘leftovers’ that the meat industries cannot use.
Despite what you may imagine, sliced cheese is another highly processed product. Sliced cheese is made from fermented dairy products, with a high level of salt, additives and artificial colours (giving them that characteristic ‘yellowish’ colour similar to natural cheese). There is very little natural to be found in sliced cheese, but they are widely used in the fast food industry.
Crisps are a tasty treat that might be thought of as ideal for snacking. However, one bag of crisps is almost half made of fat, large amounts of salt (about 1.5g of salt per 100g of potatoes) and different oils.
This product, like crab sticks is also made of surimi (discarded fish). Gulas are made using fish protein and cephalopods, water, vegetable oils, wheat flour, salt, soy protein, vegetable proteins, milk proteins, monosodium glutamate, artificial flavors, synthetic ink and clam extracts. Although this product is completely artificial, it is still quite healthy because it’s high in protein and low in fat.
Margarine was invented in France in 1869 as a cheaper substitute for butter. Although there has always been controversy over whether margarine healthier than butter, various studies suggest that the type of fats contained in both butter and margarine are not highly recommended for consumption in large quantities. Margarine is understood to be made up of approximately 60-70% pure fat.
Black pudding is made from pig's blood. it is made in different ways, but it is usual for the production process to begin with the cleaning of the pig’s intestines, which are washed with lemon and soap thoroughly, to remove all unpleasant odours. These intestine casings are then boiled (at 80-90º C) and filled with pig’s blood, sugar, salt and onion (and sometimes rice). One positive thing about black pudding, it contains lots of iron.
Ice cream is made from cream, milk, fruit, ice, egg yolks and oils and lots and lots of sugar, additives and colourings. Why are ice creams so creamy? Thanks to an additive called carrageenan, which is extracted from seaweed - that can also be found in sausages, bread or margarine. Carrageenan is considered a natural additive, so is widely used as a stabiliser, laxative and as a thickening agent.
Jelly sweets are basically made of sugar, glucose syrup or fructose and gelatine. Food additives, flavourings and starches are also added to this mixture to create different flavours and bright colours. Their characteristic ‘soft’ and ‘rubbery’ texture is due to cartilage or animal skin found in gelatine.
Sliced bread is made from the same basic ingredients as other types of bread. Though it is the addition of added sugar, fat and other preservatives that makes this bread option a less healthy choice.