I guess I did.
A few weeks ago, I heard on an NPR program that “processed foods account for roughly 70 percent of our nation's calories.”
While I purchase and consume as little processed food as possible, the report did prompt me to think a little more about what goes into my shopping cart and on to our table. Thinking it might be interesting to study this more closely, I saved the receipts from two recent grocery runs so I could compile a list of the food items I purchased.
In looking at my list (shown below), I see foods that have been subject to varying degrees of processing; for example, corn chips are what I’d call “highly processed,” whereas pasteurized, homogenized milk is minimally processed and still fairly close to its natural state. Though orange juice is processed, either through pasteurization or reconstitution, still it contains a single ingredient – orange juice – and therefore doesn’t really count in my mind as “processed.”
What about products like flour, salt, yeast, baking powder? These could be considered “processed foods,” but are they junky? No. I make all the breads and baked goods that are consumed in our household [recipes here]; is there a way to do this more “naturally”? I can’t think how.
Other “processed foods” that are entirely healthy include frozen vegetables (assuming they are plain, without added salt or sauces) and plain dried fruits (e.g., raisins) and nuts. D enjoys cereal at breakfast, but we try to choose those that have fewest ingredients (e.g., shredded wheat, which includes only whole grain wheat) or least sugar (e.g., Cheerios). (I enjoy hot cereal for breakfast, using a combination of unsalted, unsugared products – Wheatina, Cream of Wheat, and oat bran – to make a nice porridge. No sugar, no fat.)
When I look in my pantry and refrigerator, I see more processed foods – jams and jellies, crackers, condiments, etc. I don’t think our consumption of processed food approaches the 70% cited in the NPR report, but it’s certainly higher than I thought. Certainly, there is room for improvement.
Here’s the list, with highly-processed food highlighted in yellow. I've highlighted in blue foods that are minimally processed foods (e.g., plain dried or frozen fruits and vegetables), or single-ingredient healthy products (e.g., oil or olives, and plain ingredients such as flour and spices).
FRESH PRODUCE [fresh, whole fruits and vegetables]
OTHER FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
Frozen vegetables [plain, without salt or sauces]
MEAT AND SEAFOOD
Sliced ham [for D’s lunch sandwiches]
Sliced turkey [for D’s lunch sandwiches]
Veal shank for osso bucco
Beef filet [for stroganoff]
INGREDIENTS, CONDIMENTS, BEVERAGES, etc.
Chicken stock [all natural, no chemical additives]
Vegetable stock [all natural, no chemical additives]
Beef stock [all natural, no chemical additives]
All-purpose unbleached flour
White granulated sugar
Creamed corn [for a specific recipe]
Gatorade [for D, a competitive cyclist]
Spoon-sized shredded wheat
Chocolate candy [for K; it remains unopened!]
Corn chips [D likes them in his lunch]
Salted almonds [my favorite afternoon snack]
All in all, it's not a bad list.