Processed foods are everywhere! How do you spot them?

I often hear people recommending the avoidance of processed foods in diets. But how exactly can you spot processed foods? There doesn’t seem to be a clear line between what foods are processed and what foods are not.

If a more literal definition is used, one could say that processed foods can be anything that isn’t raw. Technically, when you cook your food, you’re processing it. However, that doesn’t really help us in finding out which foods to avoid.

To find a more usable definition we can look at the difference between mechanically processed foods and chemically processed foods. Mechanically processed are foods that were manipulated physically. Acts like peeling an apple, dicing potatoes or cooking chicken are all acts of mechanical processing. This is considered healthy, depending on the food obviously.

Then there’s chemically processed foods, which are made through the use of adding other ingredients like sweeteners and artificial flavors, amongst other things.

As students, this difference can have a huge impact on the way we live and are able to perform academically. According to Eva Selhub MD, a contributing editor for Harvard Health Publishing, studies show that those who eat a typical western diet are 25-35% more likely to experience depression than ““traditional” diets, like the Mediterranean diet and the traditional Japanese diet.” This is because western diets more often involve processed foods such as fries and dairy products and cured meats (bacon, salami, pepperoni), while other diets usually involve more vegetables, fish and unprocessed grains (rice). The point is, those diets involve foods that are essentially the opposite of processed foods.

Modifying your diet at this point in your life is actually much more crucial than one might think. A study done by Deakin University in 2011 emphasizes the importance of eating a proper diet at the age of the average university student because “the majority of mental health problems first manifest in adolescence and early adulthood,” and these problems can then affect us for the rest of our lives.

With all this in mind, I’d say it’s worth keeping track of what you are consuming for the sake of your physical and mental health, especially at this time of year. If at all possible, cook your own food when you can, to ensure you control what goes into your food and whether it’s healthy or not. For those days where you decide to eat out, do avoid the traditional western diets. Burgers, fries and pizza, although extremely easy to access in most places and on campus, are definitely not the best option to go for. On campus, Koi Sushi and Fusion Express offer some different types of diets, and EMEats offers a few more ethnic options.

At this stage in our lives most of us are already undergoing massive changes in our lifestyles that just must stick with us. It’s the perfect time to start switching up your diet. Don’t just eat better for the sake of looking good, or in favour for a specific price range when it comes to your grocery bill. Do it for your health, your wellbeing, your brain, and for your future. Do it for you.