Processed Foods Are Part of a Healthy Diet!

freeze dried zesty zoodles vegan dish

We make processed freeze dried food and we're proud of it 🙌 The term "processed food" is overused, overgeneralized, and often vilified. To many, the concept of freeze dried meals is scary, especially meals that may contain meat, dairy, or other ingredients that are temperature sensitive prior to freeze drying. (Read more about the freeze drying process and how it differs from dehydrated food.) So it's natural to make the assumption that our freeze dried food is ultra processed in order to be shelf stable.


Making sure our freeze dried meals are minimally processed is a philosophy here around the kitchen and while we firmly believe that a healthy diet includes processed foods, we also believe not all processed foods are part of a healthy diet. This is an important distinction.

One of our main goals at Bushka’s Kitchen is that you can identify the food inside of our pouches. A pineapple chunk looks and smells like a pineapple. A bell pepper is clearly recognizable by its shape and color. Simply put - when you open one of our pouches we never want you to guess what you're eating. That's a core tenant of ours and a guiding principle in how we produce our food. Our produce gets washed, chopped, and freeze dried at the peak of freshness. We herbally season our meats and sauces and rely on old school cooking to give our meals flavor rather than adding high sodium broths. We press our orange juice, lime juice, and lemon juice. We aren't using juices from concentrate or artificial seasonings to give our meals flavor - just real ingredients.

best freeze dried food for backpacking

But why does it matter that our food is minimally processed? Or better yet, what IS minimally processed food? Read on!

So what exactly is processed food?

You’ve heard it repeated over and over again - eliminate processed food from your diet!
Want to lose weight? Eat less processed food.
Want to feel less bloated? Eat less processed food.
Need to reduce your sodium intake? Eat less processed food.

And these blanket statements aren’t wrong, per se, but like any generalization, grouping all processed foods into the “reduce or eliminate” category isn’t accurate or even remotely possible.

We can break food processing into three distinct stages.
  1. Primary Processing, aka The Harvest Stage
    1. The first stage is harvesting the food from its agriculture form and includes activities such as grinding grains, slaughtering livestock such as pigs, and washing produce from the field.
    2. What many would consider whole foods.
  2. Secondary Processing, aka The Preparation Stage
    1. Mechanical and chemical changes to the food in its whole state that result in a more complex, finished product, such as using grain to make pasta, grilling the pork, and baking the potatoes.
    2. What many would consider prepared foods or home made foods.
  3. Ultra Processing, aka Industrial Processing Stage
    1. High volume mechanical and chemical processing where commercial manufacturers add sugars, fats, and sodium as well as artificial chemical preservatives to enhance taste and/or extend shelf life.
    2. What many would consider fast food, convenience food, or pre-prepared food.

In fact, unless you only eat raw, you're consuming "processed food" every single day. Processed food simply means that food has been cooked, canned, ground, or "processed" in some way from its natural, agricultural form. Ground flour is a processed food. Grilled steak is a processed food. Even hard boiling your egg makes it a processed food! Why? Because the grinding, grilling, and cooking in these examples chemically and mechanically change the nutritional composition of the item. Some of the nutrients, such as water soluble C vitamins, will be destroyed or reduced when compared to the raw counterpart; but, on the flipside, some of the nutrients become more available or more easily digested than if you consumed the same item in its natural state. For example, the protein in that hard boiled egg is more readily absorbed and digested by your body than if you ate the same egg raw. The Journal of Nutrition published a study that found the availability of egg protein is 91% with cooked eggs versus only 50% with raw eggs. So the processed food in this example is better than the raw, natural egg if your concern is maximizing protein intake.

Okay, okay... you know what I mean. Eliminate the BAD processed food!

That somber toned finger wagging “don’t eat processed food” person isn’t wrong if we more clearly define the spectrum of processed foods and what to be on the lookout to avoid. Because, not all processed food is equal and can range from minimally processed to ultra processed. As stated above, processing can extend the shelf life and increase the body’s digestibility/absorption of nutrients, so when comparing the type of processed food it’s vital to understand how these two factors come into play.

Let’s start by generally defining “minimally” processed. Minimal, or basic, processing can include:
  • Small mechanical (eg chopping) changes that do not alter the intrinsic nutritional profile of the food when compared to its natural form
  • Small chemical (eg cooking) changes that alter the intrinsic nutritional profile of the food in such a way that makes the nutrients more easily digested or absorbed by the body
  • Small mechanical or chemical changes with the purpose being basic preservation or precooking to extend the shelf life without artificial additives
  • Directly recognizable even after processing

minimally processed freeze dried food

Bushka's Kitchen freeze dried cherry tomatoes contrasted with fresh cherry tomatoes

Now, let’s compare that to the opposite side of the processing spectrum: “ultra” processed foods
  • Contains flavor injections/additives for the purpose of enhancing taste due to natural flavor loss during processing (look for added salt, sugars, fats)
  • Contains artificial preservatives for the purpose of extending shelf life
  • Addition of color additives to correct color loss from processing
  • Industrial formulated with multiple (usually 5+) ingredients
  • Chemically and mechanically processed to the extent that they are no longer recognizable as their original plant/animal source

Many studies show that consumption of ultra processed food has a serious impact on your health, such as increase chance of obesity, risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases, higher blood pressure, and more!

A better question to ask is how is this processed to extend the shelf life?

It’s important to remember that there is no standard definition of processed food, which is why defining the range of foods that fall within minimally to ultra processed is difficult! In general, when you think of a processed food, you are likely thinking of something that falls near or in the ultra processed scale.

And to be 100% clear, this blog is NOt meant to say that you should avoid all food that contain any flavor, color, nutritional or shelf life additives. Not at all. We mentioned above that Vitamin C, a water soluble vitamin, is often lost during even simple food preparation. However, vitamin C can be added back INTO foods that have lost it or never had it. Food can be enriched or fortified (enriched: replacing vitamins and minerals lost in processing; fortified: adding nutrients that may be lacking) and that’s not a bad thing at all! Like anything, you need to understand the purpose of the additive.

I would challenge us to rethink our negativity towards processed food and begin asking questions such as “what is the purpose of the processing”, “how is the processing impacting shelf life”, and “what has been added because of the processing”. If a food is processed in such a way that artificial flavors, such as MSG, are needed for taste, or emulsifiers are needed for shelf life, perhaps we should reduce those from our diet and start emphasizing foods that are preserved in a way, like freeze drying, to keep it as natural as possible. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - let’s make food shelf stable by removing what causes food to spoil (oxygen, moisture) rather than adding preservatives into food.

So join us in celebrating and eating responsibly processed food that leaves as many nutrients intact 💕



Bushka's Kitchen provides ready-to-eat, lightweight food for every type of busy lifestyle, whether that's backpacking, traveling, parenting, or an active life. Browse our nutritious, gourmet food and stock up for your busy life!

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