Processed Foods: Yea or Nay?

Good morning, world! It’s still March which means it’s still National Kidney Month here in the USA and Women’s History Month. I’m going to take liberties with the ‘history’ part of Women’s History Month just as I did last month with Black History Month. Today we have a guest blog from a woman – Diana Mrozek, RDN – which deals with the kidneys.

You know you’re entitled to a free nutritional appointment yearly after two the first year if you have CKD. Here’s what I wrote about that in What Is It and How Did I Get It? Early Stage Chronic Kidney Disease:

“Most people think of a nutritionist as a luxury even if they do have a chronic disease.  When I pulled out my checkbook to pay my renal dietitian [RD], I was told the government will pay for her services.  That made sense.  Especially in the current economic atmosphere and for older people, the government needs to help pay our medical bills.”

My nephrologist is part of a practice which rotates their nutritionists. It’s a pretty good idea since I get different points of view about my renal diet from dietitians who each have my records at hand. Your renal diet is tweaked according to your latest labs, so having your records in front of them is important to you and your nutritionist.

Notice I was writing about a RD and Diana is a RDN. The only difference between the two is that Registered Dieticians need not also be Nutritionists, but an RDN is both a Dietician and a Nutritionist.

Let’s take a look at Diana’s unique take on processed foods now.

Processed Food, Chronic Kidney Disease and Your Health

What foods come to mind when you hear the words “processed food”? Is it potato chips? Fast food? Margarine? Or maybe bread? Olive oil? Milk? Do you think artificial? Unhealthy? Safe? Convenient? Cheap?

If any of these words or foods came to mind, you are correct! Let’s clarify. Processed is a term that applies to a wide range of foods as by definition they are any food that has been altered from its natural state usually for either safety or convenience. Many foods need to be processed to make them suitable for eating, for example extracting oil from seeds and pasteurizing milk to make it safe to drink.

Processed foods can have many benefits like convenient and safe food storage as well as better retention of nutrient content. For example, flash frozen fruits and vegetables may have higher vitamin and mineral content than fresh or canned. They also provide more choice, less waste, less cost and can reduce food preparation and cooking time. Processed foods can be helpful for people who have difficulty cooking, like the elderly or disabled.

Over the past several years, many working in the nutrition industry have become very critical of processed foods, and their widespread use in our diet has been blamed for everything from obesity to cancer. However, other than fresh produce straight from the fields, you would have a hard time finding many unprocessed foods in your local grocery store. Most store-bought foods have been processed in some way including freezing, canning, baking, drying, irradiating and pasteurizing. Processed foods are here to stay, but making informed choices when grocery shopping will allow them to be part of a healthy, balanced diet.

The problem with some of today’s processed foods are the amounts of salt, sugar and fat that are often added to enhance taste, extend shelf life and retain moisture, texture, etc. Because we rely heavily on processed foods, we may be eating more salt, sugar and fat than we need. This is important for people with kidney disease who need to watch salt intake for blood pressure control. Kidney patients who also have diabetes need to limit sugar intake as well. Since both diabetes and kidney disease increase the risk of heart disease, fat intake is another concern.

So how do you select healthier processed foods?

In general, you want to choose products with less fat and sodium, more fiber and the least added sugar. The best way to do this is to read the Nutrition Facts Label and stick to eating one serving of packaged foods. Use the following guidelines when looking at different nutrients and ingredients on the nutrition labels to make better choices:

Trans Fats – Look for 0 grams. Trans fats are hidden in many fried and baked foods like biscuits, cookies, crackers as well as frozen foods. They increase levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and decrease good cholesterol (HDL).  If you see shortening or partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list, it has trans fat. Remember…Trans fat? Put it back!

Saturated fat – For most people, intake of saturated fat should be around 13-18 grams per day.

Sodium – Sodium intake should be less than 2300 milligrams (mg) per day or 700-800 mg per meal. Look for “no salt added” canned items or items with preferably less than 200 mg per serving. Limit use of boxed side dishes with seasoning packets as well as high sodium condiments like soy sauce, barbeque sauce and bottled dressing and marinades.

Sugar – Sugars are a bit trickier. Instead of grams, check ingredient lists for sugars like corn sweetener and high fructose corn syrup, and words ending in -ose, like dextrose or maltose. If a sugar ingredient is one of the first three ingredients in the list or if there are more than 2-3 different types of sugars, it likely has a lot of added sugar.

Fiber – Look for at least 3 grams of fiber per serving for cereal, bread and crackers. Also, look for the word “whole” before grains, like whole wheat. If it says enriched, it’s likely had the fiber removed during processing.

By spending a few extra minutes of your shopping time taking a closer look at the groceries you are buying, you can limit less healthy additives and still enjoy all the benefits of processed foods!

While I agree with Diana now that she’s brought up processed foods, remember your labs will dictate your renal diet.

I almost forgot to tell you: in Honor of World Kidney Day. which was March 9th, SlowItDownCKD 2016 is now available in print on Amazon.com!!!!!

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

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