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Five ways to eat less processed food

Nutrition Tip

posted by Research Admin 1 on 8 May 2019

The NZ Heart Foundation, April 30, 2019

Almost all foods on supermarket shelves have been processed in some way or another. So which heart-healthy foods should you be putting in your shopping trolley? 

What are processed foods?

Food processing is anything that changes the natural form of a food. It can be as basic as:

  • freezing i.e. frozen vegetables
  • canning i.e. canned tuna
  • drying i.e. dried lentils
  • baking i.e. roasted nuts
  • milling i.e. wholemeal flour.

Manufactured foods have varying levels of processing. Some examples of more highly processed foods include puffed rice breakfast cereals, snack foods like crackers and biscuits, processed meat products, ready meals and sauces. 

Of course, some foods need to be processed to make them usable i.e. olives can be pressed to make olive oil and milk needs to be pasteurised to make it safe to drink.

What makes some processed foods less healthy?

Salt, sugar and saturated fat are often added to processed foods for a variety of reasons, like making foods taste more appealing or to extend its shelf life. However, eating higher levels of salt, sugar and saturated fat than is recommended can increase our risk of heart disease.

Take sweet corn as an example. When found in nature, sweet corn is cooked and eaten straight off the cob. Corn kernels might also be canned or frozen, which means the sweet corn has undergone some processing but is still close to its natural form. On the other hand, sweet corn is used to manufacture corn-based products like corn chips and cornflakes. These foods are less like they are found in nature, lower in fibre and more likely to contain added saturated fat, sugar and salt. 

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