According to Melanie Warner, the author of the new book, 'Pandora's Lunchbox.' "It basically started 100 years ago. Nobody set out to dominate the American diet, to make everything we're eating so highly processed and so highly technical -- it was a gradual revolution."
There are estimated to be about 5,000 different additives that are allowed to go into our food, but as Melanie explains, "The FDA doesn't actually know how many additives are going into our food. This is in part because regulations are not only self-regulatory -- so the food industry is doing the testing -- but it's also voluntary. The ingredient companies don't actually have to tell the FDA about a new ingredient. If they choose to, they can simply just launch it into the market. The FDA doesn't know about them, and nobody else really knows about them."
To find out how processed a food is ask yourself, could I make this packaged food at home using the ingredients listed on the package? How would you even find polydextrose which is found in low-calorie salad dressings and baked goods or butylated hydroxytoluene found in cereal, potato chips and chewing gum?
Processed food range from minimally to heavily processed:
- Minimally processed - bagged fresh lettuce and spinach, sliced fresh fruits and vegetables, canned beans, tomatoes, frozen fruit and vegetables, canned tuna, salmon and other fish.
- Moderately processed - foods with added sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives including jarred and canned foods such as fruit and vegetables with added ingredients, pasta sauces, salad dressings, yogurt and cake mixes.
- Substantially Processed - crackers, granola, cereals, deli meat
- Heavily processed - frozen or microwaveable pre-made meals.
When buying processed foods, choose minimally and moderately processed foods instead of substantially and heavily processed ones.