July 25, 2021

Beyond the "real food" there are also healthy foods | Science

Beyond the "real food" there are also healthy foods | Science

If nutrition had a Vogue, the September edition would have told us that this season is the "real food". And I think it's a very wearable fashion, hey, and adaptable and useful for day to day. Not like the leopard print or the poke, that I see something more exclusive. The first because of having a minimum of aesthetic criteria and the second because of the raw fish there are those who do not get it well.

In case you do not have Instagram, which is where today the vast majority of nutrition outreach focused on the general population is moving, I tell you that it is called "real food" to those raw foods, raw materials. To fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, cereals … without more.

The concept of "real food" is being misrepresented beyond its reach by very influential people in social networks

But some healthy processed foods such as ground coffee, extra virgin olive oil, or sugar-free dairy products also fall into the definition. And what is definitely out of the equation are the ultraprocessed ones.

This idea, from the point of view of nutrition, is irreproachable. The scientific evidence that sustains that a diet based on these foods would improve the health of the population is overwhelming. There is no discussion in this regard.

However, I believe that the use of the label is focusing the public in the wrong way. Now, many times, nutritionists do not ask us if something is healthy or not, if not if it is "real food", or any procession is demonized because "it is not real food" without going to value the product itself. When the message is misplacing, you still have to rethink if we are going from simplistic.

I think that the movement that we are dealing with today has very well focused on identifying raw materials as healthy foods (applause), but on the other hand it has not managed to convey the issue of healthy processing, the difference between processed and ultraprocessed, nor to know how to distinguish autonomously if a specific process is advisable or not. And judging by the doubts that come to me every day and that I see in comments and publications of other colleagues, it is not being achieved. The criticism is not to the standard bearers of this movement in Spain, as some like Carlos Rios if they make an effort for making that differentiation and transmitting it. But I fear that the concept is being misrepresented beyond its reach by very influential people in networks, but who do not have the knowledge to convey the message well.

Is everything that is processed or packaged bad or insane? No. And we should learn to distinguish it

As I said, we know that the most healthy and what we should consume the most are raw materials, fresh foods. Everyone agrees with this, but is everything that is processed or packaged bad or insane?

No. And we should learn to distinguish it. Within what are not raw materials without more, we have two large groups: processed and ultraprocessed. What is and what is not an ultraprocessed?


With this, we can assure the following:

All ultraprocessed are unhealthy, because they are made of ingredients not recommended. We must avoid or limit them to the maximum

What are those unhealthy ingredients ?:

We also know that the consumption of ultraprocesses is related to the increase of some diseases such as obesity or the Cancer.


  • Raw materials that have undergone some technological process: cutting, washing, cooking, crushing, grinding, frozen …

  • They may also have some other ingredient added, but the main raw material will remain: as salt, government liquid (preserves), bacterial strains (yogurt), some preservative, water …

  • Are they all healthy? No, you have to look at the list of ingredients. Those who carry one or more of the above ingredients in noteworthy amounts, will not be.

  • Are they always industrial? Not at all, at home we process food continuously, and not everything homemade is healthy.

On how to distinguish a healthy one from another who did not, another friend of mine recently wrote, Juan Revenga, for The Comidista. I recommend you read it.

I know that things are better understood with examples, so then I give you from each group of foods one example or several of healthy processing and then unhealthy ultraprocesses:

Healthy processingUltraprocessed unhealthy
fruitPineapple in its juice, apple compote without sugarfruit jelly beans, industrial apple pie, strawberry ice cream
VegetableCanned tomato, lettuce in a bag, gazpacho in brikFrozen vegetable lasagna, frozen spinach croquettes, ketchup
CerealsOatmeal flakes, whole wheat pasta, wholemeal breadOatmeal cookies, pastries, children's porridge of 8 cereals with honey
FishFrozen hake slices, canned tunaSurimi, fish sticks, tuna pate
LegumeCooked boiled chickpeas, unsweetened peanut butter, tofuLentil snack, industrial vegan burgers
MeatChicken breast, veal filletNuggets, McDonald's hamburger, frankfurter sausage
Dairy productsNatural yogurt, cheese, pasteurized milkDairy dessert, tranchete, chocolate milkshake
NutsToasted hazelnutsCream of chocolate and hazelnuts (Nocilla), energy bars
FatExtra virgin olive oilMargarine

And what would be processed (not ultra-processed) unhealthy?

For example a flan (rich in added sugar), refined sunflower oil (bad quality fat), white bread (mainly refined flours), sweetened natural yogurt (again, rich in added sugar), potato chips (rich in salt and probably in fats of poor quality) or jam (rich in added sugar).

All of them carry in remarkable quantity, some of the ingredients that we have named above, or they are that ingredient without more, as is the case of refined oil.

So yes, there are things (good) that the food industry can do for you: cook pulses, ferment milk to obtain yoghurts, deep-freeze raw materials, coagulate the tofu blocks, or sell whole-grain macaroni.

When choosing a packaged product, ask yourself if it is healthy. And if the answer is "yes", go a step further and ask yourself if it is also sustainable and if its production is ethical with humans and other animals before throwing it into the basket. You will be creating a better world, besides taking care of your health and being able to upload the photo to Instagram labeling your "real food".

He eats "real food", with "real values" and "real critical sense" being a "real responsible consumer" who chooses with "real information".

Lucía Martínez Argüelles (@Dimequecomes), is a dietitian-nutritionist, master in nutrigenomics and personalized nutrition, TSD and blogger in www.dimequecomes.com

NUTRIATE WITH SCIENCE It is a section on food based on scientific evidence and knowledge contrasted by specialists. Eating is much more than a pleasure and a necessity: diet and eating habits are now the public health factor that can most help us to prevent many diseases, from many types of cancer to diabetes. A team of dieticians-nutritionists will help us to better understand the importance of food and to tear down, thanks to science, the myths that lead us to eat badly.


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