Do you recall the last time you ate a dish prepared entirely from organic, farm-to-table ingredients, without any prepackaged products? If not, then you’re part of the majority of the population who consumes mostly processed foods – those produced with synthetic chemicals, often laced with too much salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats.
Whole vs. Processed: What’s the difference?
The word “processed” can be confusing to some. After all, the mere cutting of fruits or grinding of beef in a machine are already some forms of process. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines “processed food” as any raw agricultural commodity that has been subjected to processing methods, including cooking, canning, freezing, dehydration, or milling. This means that the only time you are eating whole foods is when you’ve taken them right from their source and eaten them. By this definition, almost everything we eat would be considered processed.
In layman’s terms, however, processed foods refer to potato chips, sodas, candy – or basically any product that is “convenient” and ready-to-eat. These products have been altered through the addition of synthetic flavorings, fillers, artificial ingredients, and genetically or chemically engineered additives. Today people use the terms “processed” or “ultra-processed” interchangeably to refer to these types of consumer products. They usually come in these forms:
- Jarred baby foods and infant cereals
- Canned meats (sausage, meat loaf, and corned beef)
- Breakfast foods, including energy bars, oatmeal, and cereals
- Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables
- Ramen noodles
- Condiments, seasonings and marinades, salad dressing, and jams
- Pastries, including cookies, breads, frozen pizza, and pies
- Foods “fortified” with nutrients
- Bottled, canned, or tetra-packed fruit juices, soda, and energy drinks
- One-step, microwave dinners
After more than 20 years of struggle by consumer activists and public interest groups such as the Organic Consumers Association, major food manufacturers are finally starting to include GMO ingredients in the label of their products. Remember that the longer their ingredients list, the more processed they are likely to be.
5 Ill Effects Of Highly Processed Foods
An alarming 70 percent of the US diet is composed of processed foods. Considering that these products are everywhere and on every aisle at every grocery store, consumers must be aware of their long-term effects on the body. Here’s how these food items are ruining your health.
Contain Artificial Ingredients
One look at the ingredients label of a processed, packaged food and you’ll be bombarded with terms that are hard to pronounce. Some of the stuff they add in these items are artificial chemicals that have various purposes. You also need to be skeptic of products being marketed as “low-carb friendly health food” as some of these often contain dozens of additional chemicals. These include:
- Colorants – Chemicals that are used to give the food a specific color.
- Flavor – Synthetic additives that give the food a particular flavor.
- Preservatives – Substances that extends the shelf life of the product.
- Texturants – Chemicals that provide a type of texture.
Keep in mind that manufacturers are not required to disclose all the chemicals they used in the food. For example, “artificial flavor” is a proprietary blend of chemicals that are usually left undisclosed. Of course, some regulatory authorities claim that most of these chemicals are safe to consume, but consumers should still keep an eye out for what they eat and think twice about what they’re buying.
Low In Nutrients
Ultra-processed foods are extremely low in essential nutrients compared to whole foods. In many cases, manufacturers add synthetic vitamins and mineral to the products to compensate for what was lost during processing. However, these additives are not a good replacement for nutrients found in whole foods.
Fresh foods like fruits and vegetables contain thousands of other trace nutrients an antioxidants that are hard to recreate in the lab. Maybe one day they can invent a blend that can suffice for your dietary needs, but until then, the only way to get the nutrients your body needs is to eat whole foods.
High In Sugar And High-Fructose Corn Syrup
It is already a fact backed by research that the excessive consumption of sugar poses serious risks for the body. That’s one reason processed foods have a bad name – they are usually loaded with sugar or its evil twin, high-fructose corn syrup.
Various studies reveal that sugar can destroy one’s metabolism. It can lead to high triglycerides, insulin resistance, increased levels of harmful cholesterol, and enlarge the liver. Not surprisingly, sugar addiction is linked with some of the world’s leading deadly diseases, including diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and obesity.
Low In Fiber
Our bodies need a good amount of fiber, especially soluble, fermentable fiber, to stay healthy. One of its many functions is that is acts as a friendly bacteria in the gut, helping us digest better. There is also evidence that fiber can slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and help us feel more satisfied with fewer calorie intake. Soluble fiber also has a way of alleviating constipation, which is a constant problem for many.
Fiber is lost in food as it goes through various processes, sometimes it is even intentionally removed by food makers. Be sure to look for fiber-rich foods like fruits and leafy greens to keep your body in top shape.
Often High In Trans Fats
Hydrogenated (trans) fats are among the unhealthiest, nastiest substances you can put into your body. These contain excessive amounts of Omega-6 fatty acids that can drive inflammation and oxidation in the body. Many processed food products contain these cheap fats – vegetable and refined seed oils like soybean oil that are hydrogenated and turned into trans fats.
Time and again, research has proven that consuming more of these oils increases one’s risk of heart disease, a common killer in the United States. Choose healthier fats like olive oil and coconut oil and avoid processed foods that are laced with seed oils and trans fats.
When you replace whole foods like meat, fish, fruits, and vegetables with over-processed junk foods, you increase your susceptibility to illnesses. There is not much to debate about this topic. Real food is the key to better health, so lean toward them for your daily meals.