What is a processed food?

John brought this up this morning at breakfast. “Are you going to use sugar?” he asked. Thankfully I had already thought about this a bit already, and we decided that no, there were plenty of reasons why we shouldn’t make an exception for sugar. Not only is it “processed,” it isn’t very good for you either. Plus, I am wary about the sources of commercial white sugar and the working conditions of the people involved in the process. I am not too worried about taking it out of our diet though. I have a good source now for local raw honey. We have other choices like molasses and agave nectar that I think fall more in line with what we are trying to do. Plus fruits have plenty of natural sweetness in them that doesn’t really need to be drowned out with added sweeteners. But the discussion brought up other things that are also technically processed, yet not easy to substitute.

What about flour? Flour by definition is processed grain. But I don’t have the time or the money to spend on grinding my own grains. So yes, we will make an exception for flour. Though I am only buying 100% whole grain flours.

As I was putting together my bulk order for organic whole wheat flour that I will be buying this month from Azure Standard, I started to add rolled oats to my order, and then read the description: “Rolled oats are made from seeds which have been cleaned, dehulled, lightly roasted, steamed, and flaked.” How much processing is too much? Where will I draw the line? Obviously they haven’t added anything to these oats, but they have run them through a pretty extensive process to get them to the form I am familiar with. After doing some more research on oats, I have discovered that without the roasting process, the oats would turn rancid too fast for them to be useful. So, in a sense, even though the process is more in depth than milling wheat for flour, it is still a necessary process.

But this got me thinking. The flour I was buying was ground using the unifine method. It is blown quickly through a grinder, no heat added so that the natural oils are all still left in tact. I’m ok with that. But I’ve also been adding vital wheat gluten to my baking recipes to increase the elasticity of the 100% whole wheat breads. Vital wheat gluten, though very “natural,” also is highly processed, because they have to remove everything but the gluten from the wheat flour. I think I am going to have to do some testing of my recipes without this to see how they turn out.

And then John brought up coffee, which is roasted, and lately he has been buying pre-ground. I don’t drink coffee, but John does, and he wasn’t sure he was willing to give it up for a month. And then we thought about milk. Commercially packaged milk is really ultra-processed if you think about it. And this is one area where I would agree that the processing, though protecting you from diseases, harms the nutritional value of the milk. We are looking into our options in this area, but I know I have to be very careful where I get any raw milk from and how I use and store it. But hey, this is about learning more responsibility in our food right?

For now, I’ve decided to start keeping two lists of food we eat over the next few days. One will be food that definitely will be out next month, and the other will be those foods that are questionable. Then we can sort out which exceptions we want to make. As a general guideline, if a one ingredient food item is processed, it will go on the questionable list. After about a week of keeping a list, I will go back though and decide which “processes” are acceptable and which are not.

2 thoughts on “What is a processed food?

  1. Miriam,
    We purchased raw milk for a while (until they moved). I would buy several gallons at a time and then go ahead and freeze it till I needed it. Sometimes I’d let the cream rise first, then skim it off the top, then freeze the milk. Other times, I’d freeze it the way it came. It turned out fine both ways. I’d defrost it in the fridge and then just make sure to shake it up real good when we were ready to drink it. I do that with store bought milk too so that I don’t have to go to the store every few days. Of course, you have to have freezer space. I also grind my own wheat… You can purchase freshly ground wheat at Sleepy Hollow, but you’re right, you need to use it quickly…like in 3-5 days after it’s ground, or it will go rancid.
    Sounds like you’ve got a good plan!
    Good luck!


  2. Thanks Trish,
    I’ve been buying flour from Sleepy Hollow, and it has been great. I just store it in the freezer. I am buying some in bulk from Azure Standard, but we will have to buy a chest freezer for it, so that is one of the next things I’m looking for. I want to try the raw milk if I can find a source and see how it goes.


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