We’re at war with processed foods, blaming them for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. But a processed food by definition just means a food product that has had something done to it, any food consumed in an altered state, one that has been chilled or cooked or strained or jarred. Cheese, tofu, wine, flour and chocolate are all processed foods. However, to call something “processed” gives it the air of being riddled with additives, usually scary ones, like the dimethylpolysiloxane in Chicken McNuggets, a silicone anti-foaming agent. But it’s the degree of processing that’s bad.
I haven’t seen Food, Inc., yet, or Super Size Me, or read any Michael Pollan, although I know I should. I’m not a food faddist or on the cutting edge of nutrition. I’m just not that interested in the trendy food scares du jour. We love to fall in love with a food product — like oat bran, açai and chia seeds — and fall in hate with evil demon ingredients like MSG, high fructose corn syrup or trans fat.
I try not to stay awake at night worrying about stuff like that, whatever bad additive is making the rounds in the media. My philosophy is that probably variety is key, not too much of any one thing. If you eat Chicken McNuggets three or four times a week that is probably not too good for you, but if you have one order, once a year, because you’re hanging out that day with someone who insists on visiting the golden arches, it is probably not going to kill you.
However, I know that for the best health, and for the best looking body, and the best flavor, the ideal is a plant-based based diet of great variety, based on the season and the proximity and purity of the ingredients. Somehow you can taste when something is heavily processed (unless that’s all you eat) and it just doesn’t quite give you the same satisfaction. I enjoy the occasional hot dog (albeit for me it has to be one that’s garlicky and natural casing for snap) for the aesthetic benefits, but if that were my main form of daily protein it wouldn’t be good.