Processed foods are a controversial topic and the term itself can cause a lot of confusion. Almost all foods that we eat are somehow processed which is completely normal. Mechanical food processing, such as cutting and grinding the wheat is something that we can't imagine life without. However, the term processed foods refers to foods that are chemically processed. These foods are made from artificial substances and refined ingredients which present negative impacts on our bodies.
Who doesn't love the smell and taste of freshly fried French fries or Oreo cream cookies? Even if we all do, we have to keep the intake of processed foods such as these to the minimum. Processed foods are normally rich in sugar, fats, fructose, refined carbohydrates, and artificial ingredients. Furthermore, they are low in nutrients and fiber. This type of content setup contributes to making you addictive to processed foods and leads to obesity. It is also causing overeating and promotes chronic inflammation which often leads to other life-threatening conditions.
The Harmful Properties and Impacts of Processed Foods
Even though their taste is divine and addictive, processed foods are full of negative features. Their impacts on body are terrifying and can lead to numerous life-threatening conditions that slowly kill us. Keep reading and discover the harmful properties and impacts of processed foods on our bodies.
1. Rich in Sugar and/or Fructose Corn Syrup
Excess sugar presents empty calories that don't offer any nutritional value to the meal. As the sweet taste is very delicious, it is also contributing to addiction. Sugar consumption is often also the main reason behind reduced insulin resistance and diabetes. It can also cause heart diseases and cancer.
Furthermore, there are numerous forms of corn syrup that contain refined fructose. These are added to almost all processed foods to enhance the flavor. They are designed to re-program your body to ‘want more' which leads to the need for more calories. Your body reacts to this by storing more fats and making you fatter.
Fructose is mainly metabolized by liver and excessive consumption leads to liver damages. This is similar to alcohol consumption, as both alcohol and fructose get filtered by the liver.
Watch out, sugar and fructose are not only added to sweet foods. They are also present in savory and sour foods. It is important to understand that the more fructose you consume, the worse your health will get.
2. High Artificial Ingredients Content
Processed foods are often rich in artificial ingredients that enhance the flavour or texture of the food. Artificial colors and preservatives also present artificial ingredients. While the producers claim that artificial ingredients are safe for consumption, research proves otherwise.
Numerous artificial colors that are approved for use have been linked to health conditions such as cancer and hyperactivity. Diacetyl, the artificial flavouring often used in popcorn packages, also poses several health issues. It is known to damage brain health and may even trigger Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, preservative such as butylated hydrozyttoluene and butylated hydroxyanisole can damage the brain neurological system and trigger cancer.
3. Rich in Refined Carbohydrates
Carbs are a great source of energy that can also easily become your worst enemy. Refined or simple carbs, which are often found in processed foods, break down fast once consumed. They turn into sugar which increases your leptin and insulin levels. After a few hours, the sugar levels go down and you become hungry again. This way, the insulin resistance malfunctions and your body becomes more prone to diseases and health conditions such as diabetes. Almost all chronic diseases and conditions, including weight gaining, are linked to reduced insulin resistance.
Make sure that you consume real carbs and avoid simple carbs. Keep in mind all the harmful properties and impacts of processed foods and make changes in your diet. Getting rid of refined carbs is a good start.
4. Low in Nutrients
Unlike whole (unprocessed) foods, processed foods are very low in essential nutrients. Due to the loss of nutrients during food processing, vitamins and minerals are often artificially added to the food. Replacement such as this, however, is neither healthy nor natural.
Besides minerals and vitamins, there are also numerous other trace nutrients and antioxidants that processed food lacks. They can't be replaced artificially which is why it is so important to consume whole foods during every meal.
5. Hyper-rewarding and Leading to Overconsumption
Our bodies are designed to automatically regulate the need for food and energy. The taste buds have served its purpose for thousands of years. With their help, we discovered foods that are good for us and foods that we need to survive. Nevertheless, processed food producers have taken advantage of that and designed foods that encourage overeating. The more people eat, the more they will buy and the more likely they will return.
Processed foods trigger a very strong reaction in brains that encourages people to eat more. This phenomenon is called hyper-rewarding and is one of the main causes of obesity. A good example of that are potato chips. They are rich in top three hyper-rewarding properties, including salt, fat, and sugar (potato).
6. Leading to Addiction
Another one of the harmful properties and impacts of processed foods is addiction. As previously mentioned, processed foods trigger a hyper-rewarding state and make people overeat. It is hard to give up something sweet and fatty if you are eating it regularly. Processed foods are known to cause addiction just like cigarettes and drugs do. Why go for a broccoli when there's a yummy doughnut on the table?
As the foods are processed, they lose water, fiber, and nutrients. Once they are consumed, neurotransmitter dopamine is stimulated which makes you feel good despite the lack of essentials. The artificial stimulation of dopamine leads to food cravings and excessive eating. Ultimately, you can become addicted to food, specifically to processed food.
7. Low in Fiber
Fiber is an indigestible component of foods such as vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts. Fibers are often lost completely as the food is processed. It is very important that you always eat something rich in fibers during main meals. A salad is a great start. If you don't like it, at least try to eat some fruits after the meal.
It is suggested to eat at least 20 grams of fiber per day, which is easily achievable. Even though we can't digest fiber, we need it to secure a stable digestion. Fiber serves as a prebiotic that feeds the beneficial bacteria found in intestine. It also helps with constipation and slows down the absorption of carbs.
8. Rich in Processed Vegetable Oils and Trans Fats
When it comes to the harmful properties and impacts of processed foods, processed vegetable oils mustn’t be forgotten. Processed foods are likely to be rich in unhealthy fats. They often contain refined and cheap vegetable oils that are bad for your body. The main problem, of course, is in excessive consumption of these oils. As they are present in almost all processed foods, majority of people consume too much of them.
An increase in processed vegetable oils consumption increases the chances of heart diseases. If the fats are hydrogenated (trans), the problem is even more severe. These kinds of fats are the worst of its kind for your body and you should avoid them completely. Reduce the amount of vegetable oil used and replace it with natural oils or butter.
9. They Require Little Time and Energy to be Digested
Processed foods are full of empty calories that don't provide your body with real energy. As the food melts in your mouth, your brain begins to believe that no calories were consumed. This way you keep on eating and believing that it is okay to do so.
Furthermore, as there are almost no mechanical and chemical processes present in digestion of processed foods, you won't lose much energy while this is happening. The time needed to consume such foods will also be minimal. While it may seem irrelevant, this becomes a huge problem when a daily routine diet becomes full of processed foods. It is proven that whole foods take much more time to be digested than processed foods. During digestion of whole foods, people also use more calories which helps them stay in better shape.
10. Sodium Overload
While sodium is beneficial to human bodies, it can cause major problems when there's too much of it. Nearly all processed foods contain absurd amounts of sodium that make food tastier and addictive. Restaurants are also known to add more salt than necessary to their dishes so that they will taste better.
High-sodium diets are often a factor causing high blood pressure and can lead to heart diseases or stroke. Excess sodium in body also causes kidneys to hold more water than necessary. This can lead to conditions such as swelling in various body parts.
It is important to stay on the healthy track and stick to healthy diets. You are not required to totally give up processed foods as long as you can control yourself. Eat healthy and allow yourself a treat from time to time. Make sure to always eat something healthy along with processed foods to balance the meal. Also, try to replace junk foods with traditional and healthier alternatives in your everyday life. Choose to eat well and stay healthy for the days to come!
Amanda is a gym instructor and a diet and nutrition fanatic that has reviewed 100s of supplements for the benefit of consumers. She struggled with obesity 7 years ago and after losing more than 30lbs, dedicates most of her time in helping others achieve similar results and transform their lives.