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How unprocessed foods became so unhealthy

Food processing was an important innovation by human civilization. Over the years, it has become synonymous with a high-fat, high-salt and high-sugar alternative to fresh foods.

Early methods of food processing had clear goals: soften foods and add flavour to them by cooking so that root vegetables and legumes were easier to digest.

Processes like fermentation, milling and baking also make some foods more nutritionally available and easier to digest. For the human body, it is difficult to extract nutrients from a kernel of wheat but by fermenting it into beer or milling it into flour can make a calorie-rich food.

Other ways like salting or pasteurisation make foods safer and last for a longer duration. This allows for convenience while travelling and surviving cold winters or droughts.

All these food processing methods are focused at making food last longer and safer, ultimately leading to less food waste. But most of these processed foods are unhealthy.

Soda and fizzy drinks came into existence in Britain 250 years ago. Sea voyages in the 18th century were not as easy as now. Crews relied on provisions on sea and water used to be stored for months in the hold here it used to fester and go stale.

This is how sparkling water and carbonated drinks with high-acidic value, good enough to prevent them from getting stale were born.

Modern carbonated drinks are high in sugar and super vilified. Modern Coca Cola states natural flavours as its ingredients but the identity of these ingredients is kept secretive.

Today, sugar obtained by chemical synthesis i.e. the added sugar causes numerous health problems that people associate with packed and processed foods. They lead to an increase in 10 percent of calorie intake in people’s ordinary diet.

This sugar is used in large quantities in the food industry to impart flavour to foods, make them tastier and acts as sweeteners. Not only this, sugars have technological functions in food too like providing texture, bulk, pleasant colour and acting as preservative agents.

Lot of natural sugar is present in fruits too, but that form of sweetness is low for the sweetness contained in processed food packets and also considerably less harmful for the human body.

There have been many public health campaigns around excessive sugars, fats and salts but it is not simple to remove them from foods where they serve a chemical function.

This is the reason why plan-based diets are being given preference. A plant-based diet includes eating only from plants. These foods constitute fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes and beans. It means increasing the proportion of food from plant sources in the diet.

But it is not exactly a shift from food processing. It means extracting nutrients from plants to create products that consumers will want to taste, feel and smell and this means processing food. This is why, finding new ways to structure foods will be a new innovation in the food processing industry in the future.

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