• Debbie Safra, MS, RDN, LD/N

In Defense of Food

Often I read, see, and hear the term “processed or clean” used when describing food. “Don’t eat processed food,” “Processed foods are bad,” “I eat clean foods.” The processing of food has been around for over 4,000 years with the Egyptian’s salting food to extend the shelf life. Many years later in 1810 came the invention of the canning process in France by Nicolas Appert to help feed Napoleon’s army, which in turn led to many other inventions of food production items throughout the years and even today.1


Processed along with fresh foods, make up a vital source of the food supply. The processing of food can be defined as the alteration of foods from the state in which they are harvested or raised to preserve them through mechanical or chemical operations.2,3 Food processing comes in many forms, such as canning, freezing, and pasteurizing, to name a few, and in doing so does not necessarily make the food item terrible to eat. Many processed foods provide a wide range of nutrients the body needs to sustain good health.


There is a notion that canned (processed) products do not provide the same nutrients that fresh/frozen provide. The primary difference between them is one the sodium content and two the cost. Canned products are usually more affordable than fresh/frozen. Let’s take a look at an example of the nutritional value of a serving of fresh /frozen green beans compared to canned. Canned green beans provide approximately 15 to16 calories versus 23 calories for fresh. Canned offers 2.8 grams of carbohydrates compared to fresh at 5.1 grams. The protein content is lower in canned at 1.0 grams to 1.2 grams in fresh. Lastly is the sodium content of 160 mg of sodium in canned versus 0.7 in fresh. However, sodium content in canned green beans or other canned vegetables can be reduced by over 40% just by rinsing them in water before cooking.4


During these uncertain times, many individuals and families are struggling to provide food for their families. Food is food, and the many forms it comes in nourishes our bodies. Let’s take a look at a cost-saving with can versus fresh. At a grocery store here in Orlando, their store brand of green beans is .88 cents. A frozen box/bag of the same store brand of green beans is $1.99. So, if a person buys three cans of green beans a week, that’s $2.64 compared to $5.97 for frozen. Over 52 weeks, the comparison is $137.28 to $310.44, a difference of $173.16. Now for some, that might not seem like a huge saving, but for someone struggling to feed a family, every little bit helps, and that’s just a can product, imagine what savings are available with other types of processed/packaged items that are found in the middle isles.


I wanted to share a meal I prepared a couple of weeks ago that prompted me to write this blog in defense of “processed” items. My recipe consisted of ¾ of the items from a can, jar, and a box, and ¼ leftover of sautéed fresh kale with garlic. Here’s the video,

and photo of the items I used. My thought was while I was cooking this was that if I didn’t post the picture of the items I used, how many of you might have thought everything was from fresh produce items?


The taste was beyond delicious, and I made a healthy meal in less than 10 minutes. My advice that I leave you with is to choose healthy items, whether it is from the fresh produce section, frozen or isle, and enjoy!


References:


1. Everts S. Processed: Food Science and the Modern Meal. Science History Institute website. https://www.sciencehistory.org/distillations/processed-food-science-and-the-modern-meal. Accessed July 19, 2020.

2. Weaver C, Dwyer J, Eulgoni V, Et al. Processed foods: contributions to nutrition, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014. Vol 99; 6: 1525-1542. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.114.089284.

3. Floros JD, Newsome R, Fisher W, et al. Feeding the world today and tomorrow: the importance of food science and technology. An IFT Scientific Review. Compr Rev Food Sci Food Saf. 2010;9:572–99

4. Abernathy M. A Nutrition Showdown: Canned Green Beans vs. Fresh Green Beans. 2017. Food Insight Website. https://foodinsight.org/a-nutrition-showdown-canned-green-beans-vs-fresh-green-beans/. Accessed July 19, 2020.