Modern Diet Myth No. 9: Processed foods are bad for your health

We regularly hear that processed foods are not good for health. Truth or myth?

What’s wrong with food processing?

There are three major criticisms of food processing and how it affects the nutritional quality of foods. The first is that processing lowers the nutrient content of a food either by exposing it to heat or by discarding a nutrient-rich portion. Secondly, during processing so-called ‘nutrients of concern’, such as saturated fat, salt and sugar, may be added. A third criticism is that processing may alter the nature of a food unfavourably, for example, by increasing its glycaemic index.

All of these things are true, so processed foods are obviously worse for health than unprocessed foods. Right?

Not so fast.

What’s right with food processing?

If you buy a piece of lean rump steak from your local butcher, do you eat it in its natural raw form or do you toss it into a hot frying pan first? Yes, this heat processing causes some loss of nutrients but we do it because cooked meat tastes so much better than raw meat. Also, cooked meat is much safer to eat than uncooked meat.

The same issues apply when food is processed by a food manufacturer. Safety is the paramount concern and strict regulations must be adhered to. Modern processed foods are so safe that any breakdown in food safety standards usually makes front page news.

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Modern Dietary Myth No. 8: Saturated fat is better for you than carbohydrate

One of the more commercially driven myths circulating at present is the idea that somehow saturated fat is better for health than carbohydrate. Virtually all the low carb advocates push this argument, but why would they do that?

The changing science

The science relating to how much of what we should eat for good health has certainly evolved in recent decades, but it’s not a simple story.

• In the early 1980s, most health authorities recommended that saturated fat in the diet should be limited to lower heart disease risk.

• At that time trans fats were thought to be neutral but by the 1990s they were considered be as bad as saturated fats. And by the 2000s trans fats were thought to be worse than saturated fat.

• Three decades ago carbohydrate was thought to be the ideal replacement for saturated fat, which led to widespread support for low fat diets. But by the late 2000s scientific support for low fat diets had dropped away.

• Although the early science indicated that unsaturated fats may be the best option to replace saturated fat in the diet somehow they were less preferred to carbohydrate. Their time has now come.

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