Foods: RAW vs. Processed - The Surreal Scoop

We all want to eat well and choose the healthiest eating plans, but we can also probably all agree that separating nutrition fact from fiction can be intimidating when all you want to do is succeed. Here are some persistent nutrition myths I often hear from friends, family and even the media, along with the Surreal facts that I pass along to clear your brain.

1. Raw Foods are Always Healthier than Cooked Foods

While raw foods are full of vitamins, minerals and plant compounds that promote good health, some nutrients are more bioavailable when cooked. Lycopene, the carotenoid that gives tomatoes their red color, is absorbed three to four times better when cooked. Tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomato soup and even tomato ketchup deliver more lycopene to the body than raw tomatoes. Kale is a rich source of beta-carotene and fat-soluble vitamins A and K, and all of these nutrients are more available to the body in cooked kale compared with raw kale. And the lutein in carrots, the compound that promotes healthy eyes and vision, is better absorbed in cooked carrots.

Cooking also makes proteins in meat and fish more easily digested, and let’s face it, meat or fish (unless its sushi) smells and tastes a lot better when cooked than it does in the raw state. Lastly, cooking helps destroy harmful bacteria that is present in foods in the raw state. So, enjoy raw foods as part of a healthy eating plan, but remember to choose the raw foods you consume wisely, and don't forget that that cooked foods have their own merits.

2. All Processed Foods are Bad

If you think all processed foods are bad, put down your morning cup of coffee, tea or almond milk, as all of these morning favorites are processed foods! Most people think of foods that contain excessive amounts of added sugars, fats and sodium as 'processed'.  This argument is supported by these foods contributing few healthful nutrients. Those types of packaged foods are not healthy, but processed foods aren’t all bad.
Baby carrots are processed; the kid-friendly apple slices sold in the produce section are too. While bagged salads are more expensive, who hasn’t enjoyed the convenience of bagged produce when meal prep time is limited? Recent research from the American Institute for Cancer Research suggests that new methods of processing could be used to fight some cancers. So, before deciding all processed foods are “bad,” take a moment to differentiate between the processed foods that supply healthful nutrients versus those that contain too much sugar, fat and sodium.

3. Natural Foods are Always Healthier

Take a moment to think about when you hear the word “natural” in regards to food.
Did you think of visions of fresh-picked blueberries or juice from freshly squeezed oranges? If you relate the word “natural” to marketing, this buzzword (that is not defined by the Food and Drug Administration) makes us believe a food is more healthful when in fact it is high in calories, fat or sugar.  Snack foods are also being coined as natural. Snacks are less expensive so the market margins can be easier for companies to focus on.

A good example where this 'buzzword' is used is in reference to natural candy.  Sold as natural because it contains agave nectar or honey, candy sugar is still sugar to the body no matter the source, so that doesn’t make “natural” candy more healthful. Not all people who eat organic and natural are lean individuals are they? My point exactly.. 

Potato chips with the peel left on the potato before being fried into a chip are not more healthful than other chips. So, save your money on packaged foods touting to be “natural” and instead snack on truly natural foods like fruits, veggies and nuts from your local farmer's market.

4. All Sugar Should be Eliminated

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently recommended that we cut our sugar intake from 10% of total calories to 5% of calories. That equates to about 6 teaspoons of sugar or 25 grams per day. Naturally occurring sugar, like in milk or fruit, is packaged with many other nutrients, so aim your caloric focus on the reduction of added sugars; don’t worry about the few grams of sugar in your milk or fresh fruit.