The Question of Processed Foods…

I had been planning to blog about my trip to the grocery store yesterday but I’ve had a couple of comments about my reference to processed foods yesterday. I’ll stick to that. I think it can be a tricky subject. We live very busy lives and convenience foods, most of which are processed, are a necessity for most families. That said, for me, particularly since becoming a mother, I have avoided processed foods.

The word processed technically means any method of altering the food, so milk, cheese, yogurt, frozen foods and the like can all be considered processed. When I say I avoid processed foods I mean things like processed cheese – which I personally don’t consider cheese at all (I bet I’ll get some comments on that one!), or foods with high sodium content, refined sugar, white flour, high fructose corn syrup or lots of preservatives.

In terms of preventing cancer, these are the foods in question. There are studies showing the increased risks of pancreatic and prostate cancer in men who eats diets high in processed meats like hot dogs and lunch meats. Elevated blood sugar has been connected to breast, skin and urinary tract cancers.

I don’t cook with a lot of processed foods… I do use some to suit a recipe but will often alter or pass on the recipe if it calls for too much of the offending food. Where I find this most difficult to avoid is feeding the kids at lunch. They’re not big on sandwiches and they love macaroni and cheese. I always add my own ‘real’ cheese but it still has a depressingly high sodium and saturated fat content, as do canned options like ravioli and soup (which is also very hard to find without MSG).

I also find packing lunches and snacks a challenge. The array of bear paws and teddy grahams and fruit snacks are tempting, and okay in moderation, but they are still not the ideal choice. Any nutrition expert will tell you that the less cooked it is, or the less processed the better.

I’m not sure where that leaves me. I will continue to avoid most processed foods but use some in moderation. I have always avoided most lunch meats but do find ham is a nice simple option when I’m having trouble getting some protein into the kids. I was pointed toward a source of nitrate-free local lunch meats and hot dogs. That’s great but the process of curing, smoking or drying meats also creates carcinogens, another cancer causing ingredient.

I’m not sure where this leaves me. Prosciutto (an Italian cured ham) is one of my favorite things, but it is expensive so I already eat it in moderation. I have been serving more ham to my family lately since it is an easy crock pot meal, I think I’ll have to cut that down. Perhaps this just needs to be a reminder that it doesn’t take long to make my own muffins and cookies and home made is always better anyway… and I guess, if all else fails, they can just eat a banana.

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