Throughout the history of humanity, man has been mostly limited to consuming foods either readily available or preserved in limited fashion via smoking, salting and pickling. It was not until the Industrial Revolution and mass-producing techniques that processed, preserved foods became widely available. Food processing has numerous benefits as well as some drawbacks.
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When you process foods, you often make them far easier to store and preserve. Some food processing techniques, such as freezing, preserve the nutritional content, according to the European Food Information Council. Other methods, such as cooking, can also improve nutritional content. Further, preserved food is available for much longer time periods than non-preserved foods, making them easier to keep and store without the consumer having to make more frequent purchases.
Another key benefit to processing foods is the ability for producers to ensure food safety and remove or prevent dangerous toxins. Milk pasteurization, for example, removes harmful bacteria from raw milk, making it suitable for human consumption. Food processing methods that remove water, such as drying and smoking, reduce or limit the possibility of bacterial growth because the bacteria rely on the water to grow and multiply.
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Processing enables manufacturers to provide a mostly uniform product. This means that if you buy a bottle of name-brand beer today, the bottle of the same beer you buy tomorrow will be the same product. Processing also allows for quicker and easier consumption. Eating a pre-made and processed meal, for example, allows the consumer to spend much less time in preparation and cooking.
While there are many benefits to processed foods, that doesn't mean no drawbacks exist. One significant downside is that food processors must often add salt in the preservation process. Thus, people who eat a lot of processed foods have much higher sodium levels. Elevated sodium levels can lead to significant health problems, including high blood pressure and a higher risk of strokes and other serious medical conditions.