Navigating the Spectrum of Processed Foods


Corwin Hiebert


May 14, 2024
3 min read

Have you ever found yourself in the grocery aisle, pondering over labels and wondering what really goes into our foods? You're not alone. We're here to help clarify some nuances between processed and ultra-processed foods, helping you make informed choices that align with health-conscious and sustainable living.

Defining the Terms

Whole foods are things that are one ingredient. For example, an apple, a carrot, a grain of wheat or a peach would be a whole food. When something is altered from its whole food state, it’s considered processed. From roasting to canning to fully obliterating and reformulating, there’s a larger spectrum of processed foods than initially meets the eye.

Here’s the scoop: not all processed foods are the villains they're often made out to be. Think about canned beans, whole-wheat bread or your favourite cheddar. These are processed to make them safe, convenient and tasty but they still pack a nutritional punch.

Ultra-processed foods, however, are more like distant relatives in the food family. They often come loaded with additives and have little to no whole foods left in them. Think soda, packaged sweets or those instant noodles from late-night study sessions.

In the health and wellness arena, the term"Ultra-Processed Foods" (UPFs) has gained considerable attention. With increasing consumer awareness, shown in 2023 Googling data, understanding the difference between processed and ultra-processed foods has become crucial for informed dietary choices. This rising interest offers an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversations about food processing and discuss what ends up on our plates.

The Truth About Ultra-Processed Foods

Dr. Chris van Tulleken’s 2021 documentary, "What Are WeFeeding Our Kids?" really got people talking about UPFs and their link to childhood obesity. The conversation hasn't slowed down since, highlighting the need for all of us to pay closer attention to what we're eating.

While they might be handy and addictively tasty, chowing down on too many UPFs can lead to health troubles like obesity and heart disease. Here’s where smart choices come in. Opting for less processed options can add both nutrition and excitement to your meals without the extra baggage of additives. And guilt.

The Advantages of Processed Foods

While processed foods can sometimes be viewed negatively, they offer numerous benefits. Proper food processing can enhance nutritional content, extend shelf life and decrease food waste, contributing positively to environmental sustainability. Think roasted nuts, frozen vegetables and fermented dairy products like yogurt.

Processed foods can also make healthy eating more accessible. For instance, fortified foods like cereals and juices are processed to include essential vitamins and minerals that might be lacking in a person's diet, helping to prevent nutritional deficiencies.

Additionally, processing can unlock health benefits in some foods that are not available in their raw form. For example, cooking and canning tomatoes increase the availability of lycopene, an antioxidant that has been linked to reduced risks of certain cancers and heart disease.

Understanding that not all processed foods are created equal is key. Minimally processed foods can be a beneficial part of your diet, offering convenience without significantly altering the nutritional quality of whole foods.

Why Your Food Choices Matter

At EFG, we’re all about empowering you to make food choices that are not only delicious but also nutritious and responsible. Remember, while fresh, whole foods are the gold standard, the right processed foods can absolutely find a safe and happy home in your diet. They can make life easier without compromising your healthy goals.

Join the Conversation

Hungry to learn more? Tune in to our podcast, Aisle 42, specifically the episode with the inspiring Natasha Vandenhurk from Three Farmers Foods. Learn about all the clever and tasty ways minimally processed foods can spice up your eating habits. Keep up with Ethical Food Group on social media and our blog for fresh perspectives on making smart, ethical food choices.

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Corwin Hiebert
VP, Strategic Partnerships, EFG
Corwin is at the helm of the day-to-day activities of EFG, and brings his year's of experience in the food business to every EFG member, partner and client.

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