Processed food – Good or Bad?

I had an article to write, about convenient long life food that you can stock up on if you might be stuck for getting out to shop for fresh bits and pieces.  It was for a publication going out in the Autumn with the thought that winter weather can sometimes keep people at home.

There are lots of great processed foods that are nutritious fall back options when you may be too busy to shop or for those of us who might not  be able to get out to shop.  I was really limited on space, a mere 350 words and I am living in France, so I thought I would see if there were some good web pages with ideas I approved of using processed food available in the UK that I could share.

Searching on the web for processed foods and recipes to use them found mainly negative stuff and a lot of articles about how we should avoid processed at all costs.

Hang on a minute!  Processed foods is any food that has been altered from its natural state.  Many foods we consider commodities and staples are processed.  Pasteurised milk, any grain that has been milled into a flour, vegetables in a can or frozen are all processed.  It would be very time consuming and very limiting to have a diet completely free from processed food.

But surely, to eat healthily we must avoid processed as much as possible?  Not so.  Many processed foods have had nothing added or taken away (apart from a bit extra shelf life, removing some food safety issues, adding some convenience) and are nutritious and useful additions to our diet!!  Many processed foods are perfect for store cupboards, useful to quickly make convenient and, importantly, nutritious meals.

Now, don’t get me wrong – there are an awful lot of processed foods that if you ate everyday you would have a hard job of keeping your salt, fat, and sugar within a healthy range and you would struggle to get enough fibre or fruit and veg if you didn’t eat some other, less processed food alongside.  Many of these are very highly marketed, not too expensive, and fill the easy to see spaces in the supermarket.  But don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

I am going to jump to the defence of processed food!  Highlight some of the great products that maybe aren’t so prominent in the supermarkets but are great, convenient and pretty nutritious foods that give easy meals.  Some of them are really cheap and because they minimise waste they are even better value.  !!

  • Canned tomatoes – they are just that, tomatoes.  Nothing added or taken away except the skins.  They make a perfect base for hearty soups, pasta sauces, curries, tagines etc. Use a little tomato puree to thicken the sauce if you need to.  With the addition of herbs, spices and other store cupboard ingredients, within 15-20 minutes you could be eating a great meal.  You could use a jar of sauce but making your own is guaranteed to be lower in salt and sugar and can taste so much better.  If you opt for a jar or stir-through sauce then compare front-of-pack labelling for salt, fat and sugar.
  • Canned beans and pulses – high in protein and in fibre, pre-cooked and canned in water, these are a must in any store cupboard. Add them to canned tomatoes, some veg with some spices and you can have a veggie chilli, curry, tagine, bean casserole….
  • Frozen veg – as nutritious as fresh, means no prep, no waste, and frozen onions means no tears. Peruse the freezers of your local supermarket, you will find a variety of veg, vegetable mixes, herbs, chilli and garlic.  Perfect additions to any meal.
  • Fish –  something most of us could eat more of, can be found frozen in individual portions of salmon or white fish simply steamed or baked in foil can become a quick meal. Canned fish, some with dressing and veg added, give ready prepared toppings for jacket potatoes,  can be stirred into a pasta or piled on wholemeal toast.
  • McCain Rustic Chips are oven chips with skin (good for fibre) that are low in fat and salt.  I don’t often mention particular brands but these are up there with green front-of-pack labelling for both fat and salt.  I have tasted them and they are pretty good. So we can have our chips and eat them!!
  • Pouches of rice, grains and pulses – I recently discovered these pouches of rice and pulses flavoured with Indian, Moroccan or French spices, ready to eat as a meal or can accompany fish, meat or a sauce. Open the pouch, microwave and done.  Lots of green on the front-of-pack labelling with fibre from pulses or unusual grains.
  • Frozen minced beef that flows freely from the pack means you can use just the amount you need.  Opt for one that is 5% fat if you can.

Some of these can have a bit of salt added so you probably won’t need to add any salt when cooking or at the table and look out for options that are lower in salt or salt free.  So may be I need to add a few ideas to use some of these foods.  Watch this space.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Rosie says:

    A well balanced an sensible article! I do liked baked beans once a month but now buy reduced sugar version.

    1. Thanks Rosie. I think baked beans aren’t too bad as convenience foods go and there are reduced salt sugar varieties on the market that taste good.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.