Processed foods. This term has always been associated with unhealthy food items. However, most of the foods we eat are processed. In this context, processed food can be anything that’s prepared, packaged or changed from its original form. The extent of preparation or alteration is what distinguishes processed foods. So, in most cases, this term is used to mean the processed foods containing added preservatives, colors, oils, sweeteners, and other chemicals to improve their flavor and increase shelf life.
Processed Foods and Nutrition
Most of the foods that fall under this category of highly- or ultra-processed foods are ready to eat meals and snacks. They can either be chemically processed or mechanically processed. One study conducted at the National Institutes of Health investigated the reactions of highly processed foods on adults. By the end of two weeks, the group that was eating the processed foods had gained over two pounds, a result of consuming an average of 500 calories per day. The researchers also observed that the participants on the processed foods diet ate more than the non-processed food eaters, aggravating the matter even further.
Health Effects of Processed Foods Less Fiber
Chemically processed meals are stripped off the all-important fiber that slows down the absorption of carbs, thus keeping us satisfied for longer. This explains why you can easily overeat processed foods compared to whole foods.
High Sugar Content
Sugar is the number one enemy for a healthy body. Sugar is all but empty calories – great to boost your energy, but with serious health implications, including high triglycerides, insulin resistance, and fat accumulation in the liver. Sugar is also associated with obesity, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. And you know what? You’re getting most of these sugars from the heavily processed foods and sweetened beverages, not your daily tea or coffee.
Engineered to be Addictive
Food manufacturers know that people like good taste. Therefore, making food that’s desirable, attractive and delicious is top in their marketing strategy. They chemically alter these foods to trigger the release of dopamine, the reward hormone, making the food addictive. The rewarding effects of processed foods on our brains make it difficult to stop overeating to the extent of affecting our health.
Highly Refined Carbs
Any health expert will tell you to avoid refined carbohydrates as much as you can. Carbohydrates from whole foods are the better option if you want a healthy meal. The refined carbs are quickly broken down causing a spike in your insulin levels and blood sugar. This also tends to increase your cravings for refined carbs, especially when the sugar levels drop. Manufacturers trick consumers by labeling food as “Whole grains”. This is misleading since the whole grains have undergone both chemical and mechanical processing to be at that stage. If you want whole grains, get the real food from the grocery store but not the packaged foods.
During processing, a lot of the nutrients are lost. These nutrients are usually replaced with synthetic ones, which can’t be compared to the original nutrients found in farm fresh foods. Plus, they can’t replace all the nutrients lost due to the complexity of these compounds. Eating such processed foods frequently pumps your body with these synthetic nutrients and other chemicals. This will take a toll on your digestive system and your health will start deteriorating.
Contains High Trans Fats Level
Unhealthy fats should make you ditch processed foods for healthier choices. These are refined vegetable oils, cheap fats and refined seed oils that are usually hydrogenated. What you get is large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, which are very unhealthy, and known to cause inflammation.
Sodium Levels Are Too High
We all require a certain level of salt for our bodies to function well. However, too much does the opposite and brings along health issues. Most processed foods contain too much-added salts to make them tasty and increase shelf life. Your daily limit is usually 2,300mg. But with highly processed foods, it’s easy to consume this in one serving. ”
Processed Foods to Avoid
Admittedly, it’s difficult to avoid processed foods entirely. With that said, here are some of the foods you should avoid like the plague.
- Sodas, energy drinks and other sweetened beverages: these drinks offer nothing but refined sugars and artificial additives. They increase your risk of cancer, stroke, kidney disease, and diabetes, among other unpleasant health conditions.
- Processed meats: Americans eat a lot of processed meats like bacon, sausages, hot dogs and Deli meat. These meats contain all the unhealthy ingredients you need to avoid, such as sodium, saturated fats, and preservatives.
- Cookies and cakes: Commercially baked goodies are full of refined sugars and trans fats. This is linked to cancers, blood pressure, and obesity.
Considering that nothing good comes out of consuming processed foods, it’s highly advisable to go for whole fruits and foods. This way, you get to decrease your chances of nasty diseases and improve your health tremendously. Indulging in fried chicken or milkshakes once in a while is not bad, but just don’t let it become a habit.
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