By: Lauren Gillman
Lately when I have conversations about studying food science with friends, I have gotten responses such as, “But you’re not going to be one of those scientists putting all those preservatives in food, right?” After cringing and trying to explain, I realize that this innocent conversation may turn ugly very fast. These days, I can rarely go a week without hearing someone decide to cut out all “processed” foods, go on a paleo diet, or eat completely raw. It can be difficult to discuss the benefits of processed foods without people’s emotions and egos getting in the way. Thankfully, some professionals in our combination of fields have already taken it upon themselves to form a joint task force to tackle the preconceived notions about the food industry.
As the student representative for the Food Science and Nutrition Science Solutions (FNSS) Task Force, I have had the privilege to see what can be accomplished when Food Science and Nutrition professionals work together. The FNSS has brought together 4 influential organizations: the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the International Food Informational Council, the American Society for Nutrition, and IFT. Recently their published work on redefining processed foods for U.S. consumers was a top story in IFT’s Weekly Newsletter and also their look at processed foods was featured in Food Technology. Since 2007 they have hosted various educational symposia, held grant writing workshops for food science and nutrition interfacing, and published a paper assessing the nutrition provided from processed foods in the Journal of Nutrition. In this paper, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) was utilized to assess the contributions of processed foods to the total dietary intake for over 25,000 Americans.
The paper may be long, but it is worth the read. It succinctly defines processed food without bias and provides countless data to show the benefits that come along with the convenience and improved safety of processed foods. They have a defined range of processing starting with “minimally processed foods” (washed fruits, nuts) to “prepared foods/meals” (frozen dinners). To some people’s surprise, the study found that all categories of processed foods were neither consistently “healthy” nor “unhealthy.”
So what can we take away from that? In my thoughts, it is to eat a variety of foods and not worry so much. By taking the nutritional NHANES data and adding the continuum of processing levels, we can see that this interface of food science and nutrition brings new light to benefiting our health. Next time someone berates you for eating/promoting processed food, I’d send them to this article and then open up some discussion.
What do you think of interfacing food science and nutrition? Do you think the level of processing a food dictates its health value?
Photo credits: http://www.urbanepicurious.com/processed-foods/bev-garvin/processed-food-2 http://www.foodinsight.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=wtg018sd8qk%3D&tabid=1398