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Processed food – A misunderstood term?

The formulation, processing and packaging of a food or beverage is accomplished for several clearly definable purposes, with numerous benefits to the consumer and society: Preservation (extend the shelf life), safety (inactivate microorganisms or remove toxins), quality (taste, aroma, texture, color, and nutrient content), availability (access at any time), sustainability (resources used most efficiently), convenience (easy available), health and wellness (source of nutrition for survival).

There are many myths about processed food. Some people claim it contains unhealthy fat and fast carbohydrates, bad fat (rancid or trans-fatty acid), too much salt and many additives. This is not correct. In many cases the myths are simply untrue. Most of us would find it difficult to live without bread, milk, orange juice, ready-to-eat cereal, ham or canned tuna fish – all of these are processed, healthy choices. Processed foods have been altered from their natural state for safety reasons and for convenience. The methods used for processing foods include washing, grinding, mixing, cooling, storing, freezing, heating, filtration, fermentation, extracting, extruding, frying, drying, concentrating and packaging. Consumers want convenience food; they don’t want to spend much time making food, so more and more fast food and convenience food are sold today, and the food industry try to make food healthier, but they need help from the food scientist to translate research results into practice.

Fast and healthy new meals

A number of research projects are currently running to day to optimize food products to become healthier. It is in many cases pioneering and creative work which are preformed on top international level. Others are making small changes in a product – small changes that make the big difference. The results are translated into product so the food industry can produce healthier food product and meals. A recently finished EU research project, DoubleFresh, resulted in the development of healthy meals based on raw chicken or salmon together with vegetables and rice/pasta for the fast food market. The consumers were enthusiastic about the taste and appearance. Processed food, but a healthy choice.

Frozen green beans

Vitamin C and antioxidants were measured in fresh and processed (blanched and frozen in a food factory) green beans in another research project which was preformed at Nofima Mat. The processed green beans contained just as much vitamin C and antioxidants as the fresh. Why? Vitamin C and antioxidant will degrade in freshly picked green beans stored for several days before consumption, while the freshly harvest green beans are processed within hours. The loss of vitamin C and antioxidant through the blanching water are equal to the loss after 24 hours storage of fresh green beans. They are convenient to cook and you can eat them all year round. Processed food, but a healthy choice.

Juice and bread

LowJuice is another project where the aim was to produce apple juice with less sugar and more fiber than the pure, pressed juice, but with good taste. To achieve this new technology has been developed, or BarleyBread where the aim is to develop whole meal bread from the healthiest grain barley. Processed foods, but a healthy choice.

Researchers are also busy looking for the perfect raspberry for jam making and the optimum salt content in ham and ready-to-eat meals; we are looking if broccoli is healthier grown in the north compared to south and we are developing fish meals with vegetables that everyone will like.

The expression processed food as we know today should be replaced with health optimized products and meals that taste good.

 Food and health  

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