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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #125

Updated on February 23, 2020
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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

It's Been Quiet

I won't say that the crickets have been chirping—a nice cliche but it's much too cold for crickets (where do they hide in the winter?). But there were absolutely no questions this week. I could try to make something up and claim that it came from "Anonymous," but that would be misleading and simply not true. So instead I'll pull something out of my "I-should-write-something-about-this" file.

What Are Processed Foods?

What does “processed foods” mean? Is that like genetically modified, or injected with chemicals, or what?

“Whole foods,” “raw foods,” “unprocessed foods” all sound ultra-healthy and environmentally conscious. On the flip side “processed foods” sound suspicious, and for good reasons, but what does it all really mean?

Research has shown that when the food we eat is removed from its natural state, we are introduced to a greater incidence of heart disease, obesity, and cancer. Added fats and sodium make what we eat a 10+ on the satisfaction meter but also encourage overeating. It’s thought that these engineered foods can even mess with the hormones that control hunger or trigger our brains to register when we have had enough to eat.

But is all processing bad? Honestly, once you pull a carrot from the ground and remove the outer skin you’ve processed that carrot. Consumer Reports recently published an article entitled “From Whole to Processed.” They examined different foods in raw, light-, medium-, and heavily-processed forms. Here’s a table to give you a concise summary of their results.

The best would be from your backyard, then from a farmers' market, then from the local grocery store
Minimally processed
Canned, picked at the peak of ripeness. They are washed, perhaps diced or crushed, and then packed. The cans are heated to kill bacteria. The heating actually accentuates the lycopene in tomatoes!
Medium processing
Pasta sauce. Canned tomatoes are taken to the next step, cooked down to thicken. Herbs and spices are added and then the sauce is canned or jarred. Be aware that sodium and sugar can be added in unhealthy amounts.
Heavily processed
Ketchup. Can you believe that in 1981 the USDA Food and Nutrition Service categorized this as a vegetable on school lunch plates? Ketchup is a tomato concentrate with an overwhelming hit of high fructose corn syrup and salt.


Want another example?

Whole or in parts, cleaned and packaged for roasting. But, buy organic. If not organic some brands are plumped up with broth, salt, and seasonings
Minimally processed
Ground chicken. Muscle material and a prescribed amount of skin and fat are ground. Giblets and other organ parts are not included
Medium processing
Chicken sausage. The ground chicken is mixed with spices. Often the casing is made from pork. May contain nitrites or nitrates to prevent bacteria and enhance color. Sodium levels are often quite high
Heavily processed
Sadly this is our favorite food. Chicken nuggets begin as breast meat (good) which is sometimes augmented with dark meat or skin and marinated for flavor (questionable). Then it is chopped and formed into shapes which are again seasoned, breaded (with refined flour), and fried (bad) and given yet another whopping addition of sodium and fat. No wonder they taste so good!


If This is Your First Visit

Old friends know how this column works but if this is your first visit, let me introduce you to my kitchen. Each week I receive questions about food ingredients, cooking or baking terms or methods, requests for recipes, and queries about nutrition. Just about anything food-related has been covered here.

Want to join in the fun? You can leave your question in the comments below, and next week the answer will be right here. It's that easy.

We're Organized

Did you know that there is a Table of Contents for this series? I have created an article that provides a detailed listing of each question I've received. It's broken down by category, and within each category, the questions are listed alphabetically. Each question is actually a hotlink back to the original post.

Here's a link to that Table of Contents.

I have also cataloged all of my personal recipes that I have shared with you in this weekly Q&A series and in all of my other articles as well. The link to that Index is here. There are hotlinks to each recipe and this will be updated as new recipes are shared.

Let's do this again next week. If you have questions about foods, cooking techniques, or nutrition you can ask them here. If you are in search of an old recipe or need ideas on how to improve an existing one I can help you. If you want to learn more, let's do it together. Present your questions, your ideas, your comments below. Or, you can write to me personally at this email address:

And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.

© 2020 Linda Lum


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