Northeastern University Dining Services Blog

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Focus on Whole, Minimally Processed Foods

With assistance from Northeastern graduate student Crystal (Sopher) Richardson

What’s the WHOLE story on Processed Foods?
Nutritionists and dietitians are often asked why processed foods are bad.  It’s not an easy question to answer.  Many refer to the fact that the “Diseases of Civilization” – heart disease, hypertension, tooth decay, diabetes and some cancers did not exist before the increased popularity of processed foods. Whole and minimally processed foods are prepared without copious amounts of added fat, salt or sugar, therefore maximizing the consumption of cancer-fighting nutrients and phytochemicals, that protect your body’s cells from damage. A 2017 study of 249 adolescents showed that the consumption of minimally processed foods was inversely associated with excess weight.1 Another study in 2016, published by Anthony Fardet showed a link between minimally processed foods and satiety versus ultra-processed foods.2

While most people know that eating a whole apple is much healthier than drinking apple juice or snacking on a fruit snack with apple juice added, can we really answer the question of why?  Processed foods are higher in sodium in most cases, leading to issues such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.   However, although the science can sometimes be confusing, highly processed foods can also have other effects on the body.

What we do know is that a healthy diet concentrates on consuming more whole and minimally processed foods.  The best rule of thumb? The closer the food is to its form found in nature, the healthier it will be.  These whole foods contain less fat, oil, salt and sugar and more fiber.    When choosing foods, refer to the following tips:
  • Don’t be fooled by your taste buds.  Although some processed foods may not taste salty, the majority of American’s daily sodium intake comes from grains and meat.  Beware of commercially made baked goods and breakfast cereals.
  • Use alternative seasonings such as vinegar, lemon juice and fresh herbs.
  • Avoid processed meat products such as ground beef, deli meats and sausages – as over-consumption has been linked to colon cancer.
  • Read nutrition labels on packaged foods to compare sodium and sugar.
  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.  Although canned and frozen alternatives are not bad, look for those with no added salt or sugar.
  • Limit your intake of fast food.
  • Buy your bread from a local bakery.
  • In addition to your bread choice, when selecting foods like pastas, cereals, rice, and crackers always go for the whole-grain option.
  • Fresh produce is less expensive and easier to find if you “eat seasonally”.  Visit your local farmers markets to buy your fruits and vegetables.
  • Remember, meats and dairy are processed to increase shelf life.  Find a store or vendor that offers fresh local meats and dairy.
  1. Melo ISV, Costa CACB, Santos JVLD, Santos AFD, FlorĂȘncio TMMT, Bueno NB. Consumption of minimally processed food is inversely associated with excess weight in adolescents living in an underdeveloped city. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(11):e0188401.
  2. Fardet A. Minimally processed foods are more satiating and less hyperglycemic than ultra-processed foods: a preliminary study with 98 ready-to-eat foods. Food & Function. 2016;7(5):2338-2346. doi:10.1039/c6fo00107f.


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