Today, nearly all of the foods we consume are processed in some way. For example, fruits we eat were cut from trees and butter is cream that was churned after being separated from milk. However, there is a big difference between mechanically processed food and chemically processed food.
If something on your plate is a single ingredient food with no added chemicals, then it is real food even if it has been ground or canned.
On the other hand, food that is produced mainly out of refined ingredients and artificial substances, is known as processed food. This includes foods like chips, bacon, cookies, and pizza to name a few.
The majority of processed foods can negatively impact our health for the following reasons.
Unhealthy ingredients such as high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial flavoring, and emulsifiers are often added when processed food is manufactured.
Processed food also generally costs less, and packaged processed meals take less time to prepare than whole food meals made from scratch. However, they’re also higher in calories, sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats, and this contributes to weight gain.
An NIH study which compared weight changes and calorie intake of 20 people who ate either mostly processed food or mostly whole foods for two weeks, showed the effect processed food can have on our body weight.
On the ultra-processed diet, participants gained an average of 2 pounds from eating about 500 more calories per day than those who followed a minimally processed diet.
2. Made to be Addictive
Cravings generally gravitate towards foods that taste sweet, salty, or fatty. Therefore, if a food manufacturer wants more consumers to buy a product, it has to taste exceptionally good.
Many of the processed foods we pass in grocery store aisles have been engineered to be so intensely rewarding to the brain, that they may be difficult to stop eating. This can cause us to eat much more than we need, which compromises our health.
3. High in Added Sugar and High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Many processed foods contain very high amounts of added sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. It is a well-known fact that refined sugar is “empty calories”, which means it has no nutrients we need. However, empty calorie consumption is only one of many of the harmful effects of sugar.
Overconsumption of sugar can cause insulin resistance, increased levels of cholesterol, and increased fat accumulation. It is also strongly associated with heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer.
The biggest sources of sugar and high-fructose corn syrup are processed foods and beverages.
4. High in Trans Fat
Processed foods usually contain refined seed and vegetable oils. These oils go through a process of hydrogenation which converts them into trans fats. These fats contain large amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids, which can increase oxidation and inflammation in the body.
Eating these oils often can significantly increase the risk of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in Western countries today. And if the fats have been hydrogenated, that dangerous risk rises.
Vegetable oils aren’t healthy at all, yet most people consume them often. It is healthier to eat real fats, like ghee, coconut oil, and olive oil, which serve as nutritious alternatives.
5. Full of Fake Ingredients
If you read the list of ingredients in processed and packaged food, it’s very likely that you won’t know what most of the ingredients are. Even processed foods that are advertised as being healthy can be full of artificial ingredients such as preservatives, colorants, artificial flavors, and texturants.
Most of these ingredients have been tested for safety — but remember that the regulatory authorities still claim that high-fructose corn syrup and vegetable oils are perfectly safe. So it would be wise to take that regulatory stamp of approval with a grain of salt.
6. Low in Nutrients
Unlike most whole, unprocessed foods, processed foods are very low in the essential nutrients we need. And it is common for synthetic vitamins to be added to processed foods in order to compensate for lacking nutrients.
However, synthetic nutrients cannot replace the nutrients found in whole foods. This is because whole foods naturally contain a whole range of vitamins, minerals, cofactors and enzymes that allow for optimal use by the body. Synthetic nutrients are not absorbed and used by our bodies in the same way, and some synthetic vitamins cannot be used by the body at all.
The more processed food you consume, the less vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients your body will absorb and use.
The processed foods that many of us crave and find irresistible can do unnecessary harm to our bodies when eaten in excess. These foods are high in sugar, salt, trans fats, artificial ingredients, and low in essential nutrients.
It is best for our health and happiness in the long run to avoid these foods and eat a large variety of whole foods instead.