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Processed Foods

Processed Foods

Processed foods are often looked at with disdain, and not without reason. We conjure up an image of ultra-processed, plastic-like foods with suspicious flavours, dipped in synthetic almost-edibles.

But processed food wasn’t always so bad, and has changed our relationship with food over the ages.


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The History Of Processed Foods

The first evidence of processed foods came between 2.4 to 1.4 million years ago, when our ancestors Homo Habilis understood that food had to be manipulated before it is eaten. Pounding certain roots on the rock or making thin slices of meat helped the chewing process, making food easier to eat.

The later ancestors, Homo erectus and Homo neanderthalensis, had smaller teeth, which is only possible in evolution if there is less chewing, due to food being processed thermally, or cooked.


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The Problem With Ultra-processed Food

Preservation was the main reason for the processing of food by our early ancestors, and it served us well. However, ultra-processed foods in the modern age have pushed this concept beyond its natural limits, and have unique evolutionary problems.

Apart from the effects of excessive chemicals in the body, ultra-processed foods are to be blamed for misaligned teeth, small face, a large body, and crooked teeth.


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Processed Foods In The Last Hundred Years

  • At the start of the 20th century, canned foods became popular in middle-class households.
  • The ongoing wars and limited availability of fresh food opened up the market for frozen food.
  • TV dinners became popular in the 1950s, not due to their taste(which was awful) but due to their convenience.
  • On the farmers' front, innovative efforts like cutting out-of-shape carrots into convenient sizes drove up consumption of food that would have been otherwise thrown away.


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Milk And Its Processed Derivatives

Humans had to process milk to drink it as raw milk wasn’t easily digestible. They made it into curdled milk (curd), or cheese that could be stored for long.

Later cheese was processed further by adding natural yellow colour. Enzymes were added to milk to help it ripen quickly.


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Food Processing: Crossing The Line

As manufacturers fine-tune the processing of foods and push it further, we need to be informed about what is acceptable and where the line has to be drawn.

Food processing innovations help the environment by reducing wastage and decreasing food insecurity, but the way food is ultra-processed nowadays begs the question of when innovation becomes deceitful to the average consumer.


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