Are All Processed Foods Bad?

Probably not what comes to mind when you think about "processed food"

When you think of “processed foods” the center aisles of the grocery store probably come to mind.  I imagine rows and rows of brightly colored packages filled with chemical concoctions disguised as foods.

But I have news for you.  Some “real” foods have to be processed before they can be sold in the stores.  Does that make them “processed foods?”  I don’t think so.

On my recent trip to Sacramento to learn more about the walnut industry, we visited a walnut orchard and then saw how the nuts are prepared for sale at the Mariani Nut Factory.  Yes, indeed, they get the once over.  But the good stuff – the meaty nut inside the shell, is not altered.  Sure, it gets broken or ground into smaller bits, but the nut itself, including the nutrient content remains the same.

Farmers “bud” the desired variety of walnut onto hearty root stock, which is painted white to prevent sunburn.  (Seriously!)

Budding Walnut Trees

Budding the Desired Walnut Variety onto Hearty Root Stock

After the trees grow big and tall…

Walnut Orchard

Young Walnut Orchard + Mature Walnut Orchard

…the nuts are shaken to the ground for harvesting.

Walnut Shaker

Harvesting the nuts by shaking them to the ground

And while some of us are lucky enough to buy them as-is from the farmer’s market, the rest of us buy them at the store, where they come packaged.  But in order for that to happen, they have to be processed.  And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  They are still a real food, right from the tree.  But they have to be cleaned, cracked, and picked over so that we can bring home the best possible product.

Checking over walnut pieces for quality before packaging

One final check before the walnuts are packaged

Are walnuts processed? Yes.  But are they “processed food?”  Not so much.  To me, they are simply real food, in a package.

Food for thought:  aside from items in the produce aisle, what are the least processed ingredients in your pantry or refrigerator?

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4 Responses to Are All Processed Foods Bad?

  1. CelticMommy says:

    Hmm, this is a very interesting way to think about it! I love the shots of the orchards and find it very oddly interesting about the painting white to prevent sunburn… but back to the question about processed food. Other ingredients that are processed (but not nearly as much as if I store-bought) would be my baking ingredients… do they count? We make our own breads and treats like ice cream, granola and graham crackers, so I have organic flours, milk, butter and such on hand all the time. Honestly, I process almost everything rather than buy it full of chemicals at the store. I do have store-bought pasta and rice and organic meats– things like that, but we try to eat as little processed “stuff” as possible.

  2. Gina says:

    Great post, Michelle and reminder that some foods may be processed but are still real food. In our pantry we have lots of almonds that our family friends in Central California send us from their farm. We also have dried fruit, dark chocolate, and dried beans. Real foods that have been minimally processed.

  3. I love walnuts–just made some candied maple walnuts today for salads and plain old munching.

    When I did the Raw post in April I was surprised to realize I didn’t really have all that many unprocessed foods in my kitchen. I am now newly aware and that makes choosing minimally processed foods so much easier.

  4. Elaine says:

    Interesting post! I think that “minimally” processed foods have a much more substantial amount of nutrients than over processed foods or foods that have many additives. Some processing is needed in order to get our foods from the grower to the end user.

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