Effects of Food Processing on Nutrient Value

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  • 1:17 Effects of Processing
  • 1:48 Grains
  • 2:34 Processed Meats
  • 3:22 Vegetables
  • 4:09 Milk Products & Juices
  • 5:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

Food processing can prevent spoilage and increase the shelf life of a food, but at what cost? Learn about different stages of food processing and how they affect the nutrient value of foods.

Food Processing

When life gets hectic, it's convenient to grab a burger at a fast food restaurant or pick up a ready-to-eat meal at the grocery store. But, did you ever wonder how much of the original nutrient content remains in these foods? Most fast foods, as well as canned, boxed and packaged foods, have gone through some form of processing. Every stage of the processing removes some nutrients. In this lesson, we will discuss certain foods as they move from the farm to your plate, and we will identify the effects of processing on the nutrient value of those foods.

Food processing involves the altering of food from its raw form. Most people think of food processing as a way of commercially packaging foods en masse. They envision large factories with conveyor belts of food being portioned into cardboard boxes and sealed for shipping. While these boxed foods are processed, food processing actually involves a number of different procedures. Any time a food is altered from its original state, whether it's due to refining, heating, storing or other means, it has been processed.

Effects of Processing

Processing foods can be helpful. It's performed mainly to extend the shelf life of a food. Processing prevents spoilage, and therefore makes the food accessible to more people because it can travel farther. Processing also kills microorganisms that could grow and lead to disease. Unfortunately, processing also exposes foods to damaging factors, like high levels of light, heat and oxygen, which rob the foods of their nutrients.


When you swing into a fast food restaurant for a hamburger, you are actually getting a processed grain and a processed piece of meat. Let's take a look at each of these meal components separately, starting with the bun. That bun began life as a grain in a farmer's field. At that time it had a fibrous husk, which contained fiber, vitamins and phytochemicals. That whole grain was then milled. Milling is the process of grinding grain into flour. This action strips the husk, along with its nutrients, from the raw grain. Therefore, the white bun on your burger, as well as other grain-based foods like cereal, have fewer nutrients than the original whole grain.

Processed Meats

Beef and other forms of meat must be ground to make hamburger. This process doesn't necessarily significantly alter the nutrient value of the meat. However, hamburger and other processed meats, like luncheon meats and sausage, may get additional ingredients added to them. These additives, which include sugar, salt or fillers like cereals and potato starch, alter the nutrient value of the original meat.

We could add that the chances are good that your fast food burger went through additional processes, such as freezing and thawing. When done soon after slaughter, freezing can actually retain nutrients. However, thawing can allow some nutrients to be lost in the juices that drain from the meat.


Vegetables can also be frozen; however, unlike meats, vegetables that are frozen might first be subjected to blanching. Blanching is a cooking process that involves rapid heating in boiling water followed by rapid cooling in cold water. This process helps the vegetables retain their color and flavor. But, blanching can cause the vegetables to lose some of their water-soluble vitamins, including vitamin C and B vitamins. Blanching is also done before canning. The actual canning process requires the food to be subjected to additional high temperatures. These high temperatures kill potentially harmful microorganisms, but also destroy water-soluble vitamins and other nutrients.

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