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Ask Carb Diva: Questions & Answers About Food, Recipes, & Cooking, #125

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.


It's Been Quiet

I won't say that the crickets have been chirping—a nice cliche but it's much too cold for crickets (where do they hide in the winter?). But there were absolutely no questions this week. I could try to make something up and claim that it came from "Anonymous," but that would be misleading and simply not true. So instead I'll pull something out of my "I-should-write-something-about-this" file.

What Are Processed Foods?

What does “processed foods” mean? Is that like genetically modified, or injected with chemicals, or what?

“Whole foods,” “raw foods,” “unprocessed foods” all sound ultra-healthy and environmentally conscious. On the flip side “processed foods” sound suspicious, and for good reasons, but what does it all really mean?

Research has shown that when the food we eat is removed from its natural state, we are introduced to a greater incidence of heart disease, obesity, and cancer. Added fats and sodium make what we eat a 10+ on the satisfaction meter but also encourage overeating. It’s thought that these engineered foods can even mess with the hormones that control hunger or trigger our brains to register when we have had enough to eat.

But is all processing bad? Honestly, once you pull a carrot from the ground and remove the outer skin you’ve processed that carrot. Consumer Reports recently published an article entitled “From Whole to Processed.” They examined different foods in raw, light-, medium-, and heavily-processed forms. Here’s a table to give you a concise summary of their results.



The best would be from your backyard, then from a farmers' market, then from the local grocery store

Minimally processed

Canned, picked at the peak of ripeness. They are washed, perhaps diced or crushed, and then packed. The cans are heated to kill bacteria. The heating actually accentuates the lycopene in tomatoes!

Medium processing

Pasta sauce. Canned tomatoes are taken to the next step, cooked down to thicken. Herbs and spices are added and then the sauce is canned or jarred. Be aware that sodium and sugar can be added in unhealthy amounts.

Heavily processed

Ketchup. Can you believe that in 1981 the USDA Food and Nutrition Service categorized this as a vegetable on school lunch plates? Ketchup is a tomato concentrate with an overwhelming hit of high fructose corn syrup and salt.

Want another example?



Whole or in parts, cleaned and packaged for roasting. But, buy organic. If not organic some brands are plumped up with broth, salt, and seasonings

Minimally processed

Ground chicken. Muscle material and a prescribed amount of skin and fat are ground. Giblets and other organ parts are not included

Medium processing

Chicken sausage. The ground chicken is mixed with spices. Often the casing is made from pork. May contain nitrites or nitrates to prevent bacteria and enhance color. Sodium levels are often quite high

Heavily processed

Sadly this is our favorite food. Chicken nuggets begin as breast meat (good) which is sometimes augmented with dark meat or skin and marinated for flavor (questionable). Then it is chopped and formed into shapes which are again seasoned, breaded (with refined flour), and fried (bad) and given yet another whopping addition of sodium and fat. No wonder they taste so good!

If This is Your First Visit

Old friends know how this column works but if this is your first visit, let me introduce you to my kitchen. Each week I receive questions about food ingredients, cooking or baking terms or methods, requests for recipes, and queries about nutrition. Just about anything food-related has been covered here.

Want to join in the fun? You can leave your question in the comments below, and next week the answer will be right here. It's that easy.

We're Organized

Did you know that there is a Table of Contents for this series? I have created an article that provides a detailed listing of each question I've received. It's broken down by category, and within each category, the questions are listed alphabetically. Each question is actually a hotlink back to the original post.

Here's a link to that Table of Contents.

I have also cataloged all of my personal recipes that I have shared with you in this weekly Q&A series and in all of my other articles as well. The link to that Index is here. There are hotlinks to each recipe and this will be updated as new recipes are shared.


Let's do this again next week. If you have questions about foods, cooking techniques, or nutrition you can ask them here. If you are in search of an old recipe or need ideas on how to improve an existing one I can help you. If you want to learn more, let's do it together. Present your questions, your ideas, your comments below. Or, you can write to me personally at this email address:

And, I promise that there will always be at least one photo of a kitty in every Monday post.

© 2020 Linda Lum


Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on March 23, 2020:

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It was a series he did, at the end he sat the minister of education down and served him a school dinner in his resteraunt, than gave him a choice of the 'stodgy' school dinner or the new recipes Jamie had come up with that was actually cheaper!

Two weeks later thst minister got a promotion and they never adopted the healthier diet!

And we wonder why there's an obesity epidemic!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on March 23, 2020:

Lawrence, I found that Jamie Oliver clip on YouTube. Oh my! Michele Obama tried to get a similar program of making school lunches more healthy in the U.S. Our new President through those regulations out the window by the way, he loves hamburgers and french fries).

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on March 23, 2020:


This was very informative. I once watched Jamie Oliver doing his 'school dinners' where he had some kids who would not eat the healthy food he was attempting to persuade the UKs ministry of education to adopt as their menu.

He gave the kids a practical demonstration of how Chicken nuggets were made, by the end of it the kids were physically sick and refused to eat Chicken nuggets!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 25, 2020:

I look forward to it, Linda!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 24, 2020:

Shauna, your question/comment/rant is so important I don't want to give it a "100 words or less" reply. I'm already way beyond the 1250 word count, so my I table this one until 2 weeks from today? I see a problem with not only the manufacturers but also perhaps finding a way to help people who brown-bag it to find healthy options.

I appreciate your comments and your support.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 24, 2020:

Linda, I love today's kitty!

This post actually brings something to mind that boggles me when I shop.

I used to sometimes head for the freezer section to buy (supposedly) healthy lunches I could pop in the microwave at work. But since I was diagnosed with high blood pressure years ago, before I even read the ingredients, I check out the sodium levels. It astonishes me that companies that purport themselves to be "all natural" (Amy's, Evolve, etc.) have sodium levels are high I can feel my blood pressure rise as I read.

I do know that salt has been a "natural" preservative for eons, but is there an alternative? Yes, I know, making my lunch makes much more sense, and I do for the most part. But there's got to be something else out there that is not synthetic or doesn't raise your blood pressure with every bite! After all, when we freeze cooked foods, we (you, me, and the rest of the population who may be apt to have too many leftovers) don't add salt before freezing.

What would you recommend to companies who freeze already-cooked meals?

There's got to be a healthier way!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 24, 2020:

Donna, thank you for your kind words. I've written about gluten, explaining what it is and why it can cause problems, and I would be glad to share that information again.

Donna Rayne from Sparks, NV on February 24, 2020:

Linda, this was a very interesting article. I learned a lot. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and perhaps you could write about gluten and why so many people are now gluten intolerant, which I am one of those people!

Great article,

Donna Rayne

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 24, 2020:

Thank you, Kari. I hope to keep it going.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on February 24, 2020:

Processed foods is a pretty confusing subject. I'm glad you picked it! I look forward to reading this column every week.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 24, 2020:

Mary, I've gone from famine to feast--really great questions and I will certainly add yours to the list. Thank you so much.

Mary Wickison from USA on February 24, 2020:

You can't believe how many times this discussion has come up at the table. Now, I can say, I know the answer to what constitutes processed food. Or just point people to your article.

I will be interested in hearing your thoughts about coffee in Manatita's. I often wonder if I am drinking too much of the stuff.

I also have a question about milk. Why is Jersey milk more yellow? Is it just a higher cream ratio?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 24, 2020:

Good morning, Bill. Not feeling neglected. Perhaps I've done such a good job of answering the questions there are none left LOL. I will look into those FDA guidelines and have an answer for you next Monday.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 24, 2020:

That's a very good question and one that really hits close to home. I have severe osteoarthritis and am trying to determine if there are any trigger foods for me. I'll write on this next week.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 24, 2020:

Eric, I'll be happy to add your question to the hopper. See you next Monday!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 24, 2020:

Did you see that the FDA has new guidelines about food labels? You could write about that...just saying!

Happy Monday my neglected friend!

manatita44 from london on February 24, 2020:

I like how you processed the carrot. I knew a Saint who used to say that there is no such thing as non- violence.

He said that with psychic vision, we will see that we are killing everyday, either with our breath or the

things we walk upon, etc

The carrot reminded me of this story

manatita44 from london on February 24, 2020:

Sorry you dont have much this week Linda. Here's a thought: Do youknow of foods that can mimic arthritis?

I'm getting some pain here in Germany. I'm suspecting cheese, maybe coffee too. Let me know what you come up with?

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on February 24, 2020:

By Golly Jingles Linda, this was my question last week. I mean I thought about it and thought I asked it. I really disdain all the salt and sugars as additives. On the other a doctor told me that fruit sugars fresh from a hand picked fruit is as bad as white sugar. I fired him.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 24, 2020:

Pamela, I have one question for next week (and it's a good one).

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 24, 2020:

I enjoyed reading this article despite the fact that you had no questions. Plus, I liked reading the definitions of processed food even though it is a bit sad. Ketchup! I look forward to reading next week.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 23, 2020:

Flourish, well I can use some for next week. I'm all ears.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on February 23, 2020:

John, I'd be glad to add that question to the queue for next week. Thanks.

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 23, 2020:

Aww if I knew you were hungry for questions I could have generated some good ones. I liked your approach when faced with lean times though.

John Hansen from Australia (Gondwana Land) on February 23, 2020:

There may not have been any questions this week, Linda, but I enjoyed reading about the processing of foods. Something that has made me wonder at times are in regard to the different names of certain foods/products. I know it is common that names vary in different countries e.g. coriander (Australia) and cilantro (USA) but what about things like ketchup vs catsup? We just call it tomato sauce.

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