The Food and Drug Administration has yet to rule on a petition to rename High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) as corn sugar. We’re guessing the Corn Refiners Association filed the petition in part because of the persistent consumer concern that HFCS “is just so…processed.”
Generally, with boxed and canned foods in stores, more processing equals less nutritional value.
But, processing isn’t always a bad thing.
According to the Food Information Council Foundation, the definition of a processed food is “any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat.”
By that definition, food has been “processed” for about two million years, when prehistoric humans discovered cooking.
If you don’t think cooking counts as processing, take the informal definition offered by ‘natural’-food enthusiasts: any ingredients their grandmother wouldn’t recognize. But surely the process of preserving food with salt curing or smoking would be recognized by one’s grandmother. Food has been cured with salt since the end of the 16th century, and smoking has been around almost as long.
Other processed items that might be recognized by grandparents: beer (made at least as early as 7,000 BC), cheese (animal milk treated with enzymes), bread (dough treated with eukaryotic micro-organisms, a.k.a. yeast), American-style chocolate (milk chocolate treated with butyric acid), pickles (cucumbers soaked in brine and fermented), and even water (recycled, cleaned and fluoridated to flow through a modern tap; distilled, flavored and bottled for sale in markets).
One other processed food your grandparents would have used—sugar. That’s right, good old sugar. Whether it’s cane sugar or beet sugar, it has to undergo processing before it ends up in food. Cane sugar has to be milled, liquefied, treated with lime, boiled, and spun in a centrifuge before it’s useable. Turning it into table or powdered sugar requires even more processing. Beet sugar undergoes a similar process.
As with all foods, processed or eaten straight from the ground, the key is moderation. Drinking a six-pack of cane sugar-sweetened soda a day will make a child obese and at extreme risk for diabetes just as quickly as a six-pack of corn sugar-sweetened soda.