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Getting rid of processed foods is usually right at the top of any dieting tip sheet. On the surface it makes sense to cut out these junk foods, but dig a little deeper and it’s not so clear cut.

It’s beaten into you everywhere you look – cut down your processed food consumption. Pick up a fitness magazine and it’ll be right there in bold print in every weight loss article. You’ll see health infomercials advocating decreasing junk or man-made foods, and the government and health authorities seem on a war path to rid out diets of anything processed.

It gets even worse when you look into certain diets such as the Paleo diet, which restrict all processed and man-made foods, and almost any popular diet plan, be it low-carb, vegetarian, vegan, Atkins or Dukan recommend foregoing processed foods almost entirely.

This would certainly seem to make perfect sense. To the layman, these foods are highly processed, our bodies don’t like them, and on the whole, they’re pretty high in calories, making them far from diet-friendly.

But it really isn’t quite so simple. Let’s take a look.

Defining Processed

How would you define a processed food?

If you would class it as something that’s been changed from its natural state, you’re not far wrong. This makes classifying processed foods seem easy, but hold it right there.

Most proponents of clean eating (eating only unprocessed foods) base their diets around meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, plus a few extras such as oils, spices, maybe some dairy products. These would all seem to be unprocessed.

When you think about it though, all these foods are processed to a degree. The meat and fish you buy will have been given hormones or been fed man-made food if it’s farm-raised, and even 100 percent wild meat will be preserved in some way. As for veggies, unless you grow your own, they’ll all have pesticides of some sort sprayed on them. Likewise with nuts and seeds.

And when was the last time you saw ready to eat brown rice and pasta growing in the wild!? Whole grains may be less processed than white carbs, but they’re still processed.

And that’s the issue with trying to demonize processed foods – almost everything we eat is processed.

Calories

Many folks just assume that processed foods are higher in calories, and should therefore be avoided. Once again though, this is definitely not true.

Take a classic example, and one of the most hated food substances on the planet – artificial sweeteners.

Food doesn't get much more processed than aspartame or acesulfame K. Yet when you compare it against a supposedly more natural sweetener such as honey, agave nectar or even natural maple syrup, artificial sweeteners are a clear winner. Because they’re so sweet you don’t need much at all, so use only minuscule amounts, leading to a much lower calorie intake, which will undoubtedly benefit your weight loss.

Another good one is fruit juice vs diet drinks. 100 percent fresh-squeezed fruit juice is almost completely unprocessed and diet drinks processed to within an inch of their life. Yet a standard glass of OJ will have around 25 grams of sugar and 100 calories – a glass of diet Coke, 3 calories.

Suddenly processed foods don’t seem so bad.

Safety Concerns

Despite the above evidence, many people still deem processed foods as unhealthy. But the fact is, these foods are safe to eat. Food testing is rigorous in the Western world, and any products you find on your supermarket shelves will be safe to eat.

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