Are All Processed Foods Bad?

Are All Processed Foods Bad?
Are All Processed Foods Bad?

What is processed food?  Are all processed foods bad?  Can processed foods ever be healthy?  Where do we draw the line?  These are questions we ask ourselves every day.

Many people see processed foods as a bad thing but foods are neither good nor bad, black or white.  Like everything else in life, there are shades of gray.  And here’s the truth:  Everything we eat is processed.

The key is to educate ourselves on what processed foods we can introduce into a healthy diet and which ones we should stay away from.  It’s easier than you think.

First, let’s take a look at the different categories of processed foods.

Categories of Processed Foods

Categories of Processed Foods
Categories of Processed Foods

What we typically think of as unprocessed foods are actually “processed” in the regard that they are slightly altered from their natural state for the sake of consumer convenience and/or the purpose of preservation.  These include foods that are picked from the vine, cleaned, pasteurized, refrigerated, frozen and/or vacuum-sealed. Examples of this would be fresh or frozen whole produce, milk, fresh herbs and eggs.

Minimally processed foods have been manipulated in some way.  They have had inedible/unwanted parts removed, been pressed, dried, ground, cooked, milled and/or packaged. This category includes meat cut by a butcher, seafood, bagged salads, roasted nuts, grains, legumes, oils and whole-grain flours.

Foods can be further processed when they are modified from their original state to become something else.  This includes butter, sour cream, hummus, salt, sugar, pickled and fermented foods.

Now we move onto the next level of processed foods.  These are foods processed in a factory and come to us canned, jarred or otherwise packaged.  This is where we must begin to be vigilant.  

Highly Processed Food

Highly Processed Food
Highly Processed Food

Many highly processed foods appear to be healthy on the surface.  Let’s take these granola bars, for example.  The label shouts that it’s made with 100% WHOLE GRAINS!  No high fructose corn syrup! No artificial flavors!  No added color! 100 calories or less per serving!

But there’s a rude awakening when we look at the nutrition label.

Whole grains?  They may be whole but there certainly aren’t many of ‘em in there…1 gram (or less, depending on the flavor) of fiber per serving

No high fructose corn syrup?  That’s true, but each bar is chock-a-block full of other sugars:  Cane sugar, brown sugar, invert sugar, corn syrup and corn syrup solids.  At 7 grams per serving, that’s more than 25% of the recommended daily allowance for children.  As for the high fructose corn syrup argument?  Studies show that, although it’s metabolized differently from other sweeteners, all added sugars have the same metabolic effects on the body and can lead to the same health consequences.

But, it’s low in calories, right?  Unfortunately, the nutrition label shows that there is no notable nutrition being added to your diet when you eat this bar.  It’s empty calories.  It’s adding nothing to your body except calories and sugar.  (Yes, just like a candy bar). In my opinion, this is the most overlooked aspect of these highly processed foods.

When you swap out the granola bars for this homemade fruit nut granola, you’ll be gaining 3.5 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals per serving.  And while there is honey added to the mix, it’s partially offset by the fiber and protein content and the added nutrition found in this natural sweetener.

Can You Judge A Book By Its Cover?

Can You Judge A Book By Its Cover?
Can You Judge A Book By Its Cover?

So are there any highly processed foods that we can eat?  How can we know which ones to choose?  I’m here to tell you this:  You, without a doubt, CAN judge a book by its cover.

Any food that’s considered processed must have a nutrition label, which lists ingredients as well as calories, fat, added sugars, fiber and nutritional values. It takes less than a minute to decide if any particular item should be added to your shopping cart.

Take a look at the ingredients.  Everything you see there should be something that you can find in your own kitchen. If there are any ingredients you can’t pronounce, don’t know what it is or wouldn’t be able to buy it on the grocery store shelf, put that package right back and move on.

You should also keep in mind that less is more.  Look for items with only a few simple ingredients.  Just like you would make it at home.

Now look at the nutrition section and ask yourself these questions.  How many servings are in this container?  How many servings would you eat in one sitting?  How much sodium, fat and sugar would you be ingesting in that one sitting?  Is there any protein, fiber, vitamins or minerals that would nourish your body?

For more information on understanding this information, check out this article from the FDA.

How To Make Good Choices

How To Make Good Choices
How To Make Good Choices

Shelf-stable grocery items do have a valid place in every kitchen.  Things like canned tuna, canned or dried fruits/vegetables and legumes remain edible for a long time, much longer than fresh.  They also retain the same level of nutrition for their entire shelf life.

Dry pasta, whole grain flours, granulated sugar and rolled oats are convenient to use and have a long shelf life.  Nuts, nut butter and dried meats need no preparation and can be eaten directly from the container.

Having said that, we cannot assume that all these products are created equal.  In general, most “flavored” items such as honey roasted nuts and tuna packets have added sugar and/or sodium.  So do many nut butters.

Do you know that a single serving size container of many flavored yogurts can contain (or even exceed) your RDA of sugar?  Just as delicious (and much healthier) is unflavored yogurt with a few drops of honey and vanilla and/or fresh fruit.

I hate to be a nag but I’m going to say it again and ask you to take a few seconds to read those nutrition facts.  I guarantee you’ll be surprised at what you see from one brand to the next! 

It’s All About The Balance

It’s All About The Balance
It’s All About The Balance

You may wonder why I’m telling you this.  I’m the one who’s always preaching about cooking fresh, whole foods, thinking ahead, saving leftovers, yada, yada, yada.

Right?

Because cooking from scratch is not always in the cards.  I get busy, I get tired, my plans change. Sometimes I’m just too lazy to cook.  Sometimes I want a shortcut and that’s ok.

It’s all about the balance in life so go ahead and make things easier by picking up a few cans or boxes.  Just don’t forget to read those labels!

All my best,

Cynthia
cynthia@cynthiaeats.com

Stewed Beef with Egg Noodles

Stewed Beef with Egg Noodles
Stewed Beef with Egg Noodles

Stewed Beef with Egg Noodles

 

6 oz beef, cut into 1” cubes

2 tbsp flour

2 tbsp olive oil

½ cup red wine (non-alcoholic or regular)

1½  cups beef broth

1 clove garlic, minced (1 tsp)

1 cup chopped onion

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

¾ cup fresh mushrooms, sliced (5 oz)

1 tbsp cornstarch

¼ cup water

2 cups uncooked egg noodles

 

Sprinkle flour over beef cubes and toss to coat.

Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Add beef and stir gently until browned, about 5 minutes.  Add wine and beef broth.

Add garlic, onion, pepper, carrot, celery, and mushrooms.  Bring to boil.

Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 2½ hours.

Dissolve cornstarch in water and stir into pan.  Simmer, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 2 minutes.

Cook egg noodles according to package directions and serve covered with stewed beef.

 

3 servings, 505 calories per serving

 

Hack:  Store leftover stewed beef and egg noodles separately to avoid soggy egg noodles.

Hack:  Store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 6 months.

Hack: Although egg noodles can be frozen, they are better cooked fresh.  If possible, only cook what you’ll be using within 5 days.

Hack:  Frozen or dehydrated vegetables will work well in this recipe

Fresh Made Lemonade By The Glass

 

Fresh Made Lemonade By The Glass

 

1 medium lemon

¾ cup water

1-2 tbsp sugar or to taste

Ice

 

Place the uncut lemon on the countertop or cutting board.  Roll the lemon back and forth a few times, pressing down firmly with the palm of your hand.

Cut the lemon in half and, using your hand or a juice extractor, squeeze as much juice out as possible.  A medium-sized lemon will yield approximately 3 tbsp of juice.

Pour lemon juice into a glass, passing it through a strainer or cheesecloth to catch seeds and pulp.

Add water and sugar to the glass.  Stir to dissolve sugar.

Add ice and serve immediately.

 

1 serving, 60-100 calories per serving, depending on sugar usage

 

Hack:  3 tbsp bottled lemon juice can be used in this recipe

Hack:  Honey, corn syrup, maple syrup, coconut sugar or another sweetener can be used to replace sugar

Hack:  Freshly squeezed lemon juice can be frozen for up to 3 months.  Pour into ice cube trays to freeze into individual cubes.

 

 

Simple Pico de Gallo (Easy Fresh Salsa)

 

Simple Pico de Gallo (Easy Fresh Salsa)
Simple Pico de Gallo (Easy Fresh Salsa)

Simple Pico de Gallo (Easy Fresh Salsa)

 

4 plum tomatoes (1 lb or 3 cups chopped)

½ large onion (1 cup chopped)

1 jalapeno pepper (optional)

1 clove garlic (1 tsp minced)

½ cup fresh cilantro (or 3 tbsp dried)

2 tbsp lime juice

½ tsp salt

⅛ tsp pepper

 

Chop tomatoes into small dice.  Mince onion, jalapeno, and garlic.  Add all to a mixing bowl.

Stir in cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper.

Refrigerate and allow to rest for one hour for flavors to combine.

Serve with tortilla chips, if desired.

 

6 servings, 25 calories per serving (pico de gallo only)

 

Hack:  Serve with or mix in Easy Guacamole Dip for a hearty and tasty appetizer or snack!


Hack: 
Serve over tacos, enchiladas or in burritos and quesadillas.  Also, cook with scrambled eggs or rice!

Gourmet Veggie Bagel

 

Gourmet Veggie Bagel
Gourmet Veggie Bagel

Gourmet Veggie Bagel

 

1½ cups warm water (110℉)

1 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp dry active yeast

½ cup dehydrated mixed vegetables

4 cups flour

2 tsp salt

 

Water bath:

2 quarts water

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp white sugar

 

Dissolve brown sugar and yeast in warm water.  Set aside for 7 minutes until yeast blooms (forms a foam on top).

Place dried vegetables in a mini chopper or blender.  Pulse a few times to break up any large pieces.  Place vegetables, flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook.

When yeast has bloomed, add it to the four mixture.  Knead on medium-low speed for 10 minutes or until dough begins to make a slapping sound against the side of the bowl.  Move dough to a greased bowl, cover and let rise for 90 minutes or until it has doubled.

Remove the dough from the bowl and shape it into 8 balls.  Cover and let it rest for 30 minutes.

While the dough is resting bring water to a rolling boil in a wide diameter pan.  Add brown sugar and white sugar.

Preheat oven to 425℉.

Use your finger to poke a hole in the middle of each dough ball and gently stretch so that hole is 2” in diameter and the bagel itself is 4” in diameter.  Place each bagel on a lightly greased surface or parchment paper.

Lower bagels into boiling water using a slotted spoon, being careful not to crowd them.  Simmer gently for 2 minutes, then carefully flip them over and simmer for another minute.  Remove with the slotted spoon and move to a lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining bagels.

Bake bagels for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and has an internal temp of 190℉.  Flip bagels after 15 minutes.

 

Yield: 8 bagels, 230 calories per bagel

Hack: Bagels can be stored at room temperature for 3-4 days or frozen for up to 6 months.

 

Classic Blue Cheese Wedge Salad

 

Classic Blue Cheese Wedge Salad
Classic Blue Cheese Wedge Salad

Classic Blue Cheese Wedge Salad

 

1 head iceberg lettuce

1-pint grape tomatoes

½ red onion

½ cup Blue Cheese Salad Dressing

1 cup bacon sprinkles

1 cup blue cheese crumbles

 

Remove stem and outside leaves from the lettuce.  Cut into 4 equal wedges.  Rinse gently under cold water, taking care to keep the wedges intact.  Allow to drain.

Thinly slice the red onion.  Rinse tomatoes and cut them in half.

Place wedges wide side down in a salad bowl or plate.  Drizzle with 2 tbsp blue cheese dressing (thin with a little milk if the dressing is too thick to drizzle), Sprinkle with tomatoes, onion slices and bacon crumbles, allowing them to stick to the sides of the wedge in the salad dressing,  Top with blue cheese crumbles.

Serve immediately.

 

4 servings, 387 calories per serving

 

Hack: Make this a complete meal by adding one or two hard-boiled eggs!

Hack:  Do not assemble salad until ready to eat.  If there are ingredients leftover, wrap them individually and store in the refrigerator until ready to eat.

Hack: To make bacon crumbles, preheat oven to 350℉.  Place a low rack on a sheet pan with sides (so the grease won’t run into the oven).  Lay uncooked bacon slices on top of the rack.  Put in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until crisp and browned.

Drain bacon on paper towels until cool.  Crumble to the desired size.

1 lb bacon will make about 1 cup bacon crumbles


Hack:
  Store any leftover bacon grease tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.  It can be used as a substitute for butter in various dishes.  Caution:  Use caution when cooking with bacon grease.  It has a smoke point similar to butter, which is lower than oils.

Homemade Macarons

 

Homemade Macarons
(Courtesy: Penny Jacques)

 

1 cup fine almond four (100 grams)

1 ¾ cups confectioners sugar (180 grams)

3 egg whites (room temperature) (100 grams)

¼ tsp cream of tartar

¼ cup caster sugar (40 grams)

4 -5 drops gel food coloring, any color

Fillings, such as jam, jelly, butter cream, ganache, curd, sweetened cream cheese and/or whipped cream

 

Before beginning the recipe, clean 3 bowls and mixer beater attachments to assure no residue is present.

Mix almond flour and confectioners sugar together.  Sift three times and set aside.

Beat egg whites and cream of tartar until frothy, about 4 minutes.  Gradually add caster sugar while continuing to beat whites.  Beat until whites form stiff peaks, another 4 minutes.

Add gel food coloring to achieve desired color.  Continue beating for an additional 4 minutes or until stiff peaks return.

Add dry ingredients to egg whites.  Gently fold together with a rubber or silicone spatula by folding from sides of the pan and dragging through the middle of batter.  Make about 50 rotations until the batter runs smoothly from spatula.  Test this by “drawing” a figure 8 with the batter that runs from the tip of the spatula.  If the figure comes out smoothly on the top of the batter in the bowl, it’s ready.

Gently transfer batter to a decorating bag and pipe 1½ “ circles onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Space about 1” apart.  Drawing circles on the parchment paper beforehand will help to keep the macrons uniform.

Tap the baking sheet gently on the counter several times to bring any air bubbles to the surface of batter.  Use a toothpick to gently pop bubbles.

Allow macrons to rest at room temperature for about 60 minutes or until no wet spots show and a film has formed.  You should be able to touch the cookie gently without disturbing the batter.

Preheat oven to 350℉.  Cook on center rack for 13-14 minutes until set but not browned.  Allow to cool completely on the baking sheet (at least 20 minutes).

Turn cookies over and pipe desired toppings on the flat side.  Cover with another cookie, flat side down.

Refrigerate in a tightly sealed container for 24 hours.  Allow to set at room temperature for 20 minutes prior to serving.

 

Yield: 15 completed macarons,  115 calories per double cookie, fillings excluded

 

Hack:  Macarons can be refrigerated for up to 7 days

Hack:  Filled macarons can be tightly wrapped and frozen for up to 1 month, although some fillings may not maintain their desired consistency after being thawed.

Hack:  Unfilled macarons can be tightly wrapped and frozen for up to 3 months.

 

 

Asian Stir Fry Green Beans

 

Asian Stir Fry Green Beans

 

1 lb fresh whole green beans

2 cups water

1 tbsp canola oil*

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Wash and drain green beans.  Cut or break off stem ends.

Place a skillet over high heat.  Add beans and water.  Cover the skillet and allow it to steam until water evaporates.

When the pan is dry, move beans to the side of the pan, creating a well in the center.  Add canola oil to the well and stir fry beans for 1-2 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately.

*Any oil with a high smoke point would work in this recipe.

 

4 servings, 60 calories per serving

Hack:  Store leftover beans in the refrigerator for up to 5 day or freeze, tightly wrapped, for up to 10 months.

 

Pork Chop with Apple Butter and Onion

 

Pork Chop with Apple Butter and Onion

Pork Chop with Apple Butter and Onion

 

1 boneless pork chop, 4 oz

Dried rosemary

Salt

Pepper

2 tsp olive oil, divided

¼ sweet onion, thinly sliced

1 ½ tsp apple cider vinegar

2 tbsp Old Fashioned Apple Butter

 

Preheat oven to 400℉.

Heat 1 tsp olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.  Dry pork chop with a paper towel and sprinkle with rosemary, salt and pepper.

Place pork chop in pan and sear on both sides.  Remove from the pan.

Lower heat to medium-low and add remaining olive oil and onions to the skillet.  Cook, string frequently, until soft and lightly browned.  Deglaze pan with vinegar.

Remove onions from skillet to oven-safe pan.  Top with pork chop and apple butter.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or to an internal temperature of 150℉.  Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

 

1 serving, 280 calories

 

 

Baked Vanilla Donuts

Baked Vanilla Donuts
(Courtesy:  Pampered Chef)

 

Donuts:

1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour

½ cup (125 mL) granulated sugar

½ tsp (2 mL) baking soda

¼ tsp 1 mL) salt

½ cup (125 mL) sour cream

¼ cup (50 mL) canola oil

1   egg

Glaze:

2 cups (500 mL) powdered sugar

2½ tbsp (37 mL) buttermilk or milk

½ tsp (2 mL) vanilla

 

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Brush the Donut Pan with oil.

For the donuts, combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk in the remaining ingredients for donuts just until combined.

Place the Large Round Tip on the large Decorating Bag. Fill the bag with dough and pipe around each well until it’s about ¾ full. Bake for 8–10 minutes, or until the donuts spring back when lightly pressed. Remove from the oven to a Stackable Cooling Rack. Let the donuts cool in the pan for 5 minutes before releasing. Cool completely.

For the glaze, whisk together all of the ingredients in a small bowl. Place a sheet of parchment paper under the cooling rack. Spread the glaze evenly over the tops of the donuts using the Small Spreader. Let the donuts stand until the glaze sets.

Yield:  12 donuts, 220 calories per donut