We all know processed foods are convenient and quite scrumptious and it can be tempting to turn to them for quick and easy meals; yet lurking just beneath the surface of that salty, sweet deliciousness, are hidden dangers that you may not know about that could be a real risk to your health. In this article, we reveal the dark side to processed foods and explore why you should be reducing your consumption.
1. What Are Processed Foods?
It’s no secret that our modern diet is filled with what are termed “processed foods”. But exactly what are these “processed foods”, and how do they differ from naturally sourced food? At first glance, it might not seem like there’s anything wrong with processed foods. In fact, there’s a huge range of convenience foods that make life a bit easier, especially for busy folks who don’t have the time to prepare meals from scratch. But research is suggesting that processed foods may actually be a hidden danger – and it’s time to take a look at the facts.
What is a processed food?
Processed foods are defined as those that have been altered from their natural state in some way – either by the addition or subtraction of certain ingredients, or through some type of industrial processing. This might include adding salt or sugar for flavor, or using mechanized grinding equipment to reduce the size of ingredients. Processed foods can also include those that have been frozen or dehydrated, canned, packaged, or subjected to any other type of preparation beyond the most basic.
What’s wrong with processed foods?
Processed foods can contain preservatives, additives, stabilizers, and unhealthy fats that may reduce a food’s nutritional value. In addition, research has linked processed food consumption with an increase in obesity, heart disease, and other health problems. Studies have found that processed foods are higher in calories, sugar, and fat, as well as lower in fiber, vitamins, and minerals when compared to non-processed foods.
The hidden dangers of processed foods
The biggest danger may lie in the hidden ingredients – many processed foods contain high levels of artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and other unhealthy chemicals. These ingredients can disrupt the body’s natural balance and negatively affect the digestive and immune systems. Additionally, there have been studies linking processed foods to an increased risk of cancer, diabetes, and other health problems.
How to avoid processed foods
The best way to avoid processed foods is to go back to basics. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and cook meals from scratch whenever possible. Buy locally-sourced and organic foods whenever possible, and read labels carefully to make sure you know what you’re buying. Additionally, consider supporting farms and businesses that use sustainable and ethical practices, and avoid buying from large corporations that rely on processed foods.
2. Dangers Lurking in Processed Foods
It’s easy to be duped by convenience foods, perceiving them as nutritious and wholesome options. While that may be the case in some ways, there are certain that make it necessary to take a closer look at the ingredients lists of these types of items. Understanding the hidden risks can help inform more healthful food choices.
The most blatant and well-known risk of processed food lies in the absurd amount of sodium content many contain. Many manufacturers load up their products with salt, making them highly palatable and delicious, but exuberantly unhealthy. Eating too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Though convenient, many processed foods contain preservatives that are far from natural or healthy. These preservatives are often designed to prolong the shelf life of a product, though that typically comes at a cost of inferior nutrition and taste. Familiar preservatives to watch out for include MSG, sulfites, and nitrates. High exposure can cause health issues from headaches to a weakened immune system.
Unfortunately, manufacturers often add extra sugar to processed foods to increase shelf life and flavor. While sugar is okay in moderation, it is not something you want to be eating in excess. Consuming too much added sugar can lead to diabetes, weight gain, and other chronic illnesses.
Processed food is also problematic due to many of the unsustainable agricultural practices used in its production. Intensive farming, the use of pesticides, and even clear-cutting can all contribute to environmental damage that not only impacts our planet, but the health and nutrition of those who depend on these lands.
Processed foods typically contain unhealthy fats like saturated and trans fats, both of which can lead to high cholesterol levels and an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases if eaten in large quantities.
Processed foods may be convenient, but they come with their own set of dangers and risks. Taking a closer look at your food choices and being mindful of just what is lurking within can help you make much more informed, and healthier, decisions.
3. How Processing Influences Nutrients and Calories
Processed foods may appear to be an easy solution to cooking – but they’re not as healthy as they seem. Numerous studies have revealed how processing influences the nutrient and calorie content of our food, leading to serious health risks when consumed regularly.
- Salt: Processed foods tend to be high in salt and low in potassium, contributing to hypertension and other cardiovascular problems. Processed foods high in salt can raise blood pressure, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Fat: Processed foods are also loaded with unhealthy saturated and trans fats, which can increase the risk of high cholesterol and heart disease. Many processed foods also have added sugar, which can cause weight gain and diabetes.
- Preservatives: Processed foods often contain chemical additives, such as preservatives, colors, and flavorings. These can range from dangerous, such as nitrites and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), to cancer-causing chemicals and allergens. Studies indicate that these additives can increase inflammation, weaken immune system, and mess with hormones.
- Calories: Most processed foods have higher calorie counts than their unprocessed counterparts. This is because these foods are often packed with refined carbohydrates, fats, and sugars – ingredients that offer empty calories and provide little to no nutrition.
Whether it’s pre-packaged meals, frozen dinners, or canned soups, processed foods are filled with unhealthy fats and preservatives that can lead to a variety of health problems and diseases. To maintain a balanced and nutritious diet, it’s important to avoid processed foods as much as possible and opt for healthier, unprocessed alternatives.
4. The Health Risks of Eating Processed Foods
Processed foods are everywhere – in supermarkets, restaurants, and even in homes. Unfortunately, they may also bring about adverse health outcomes. Studies have shown that consuming large quantities of processed foods can increase the risk for numerous chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
- Higher Sodium Content: Processed foods typically contain far more sodium than unprocessed foods. High levels of sodium can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of stroke and heart attack.
- Artificial Sweeteners: Products labeled as “diet” or “light” often contain artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, aspartame, and acesulfame potassium. These can create an imbalance in gut flora that could lead to weight gain and GI discomfort.
- Food Additives: Not all food additives are safe. Certain chemicals such as food colorings, flavorings, and preservatives can cause allergic reactions and intestinal distress.
- Lack of Nutrients: Many processed foods aren’t nutritionally-balanced and may lack important vitamins and minerals. Eating a diet lacking in essential nutrients can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
The main danger of processed foods is that their convenience comes with the hidden risk of health issues. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the risks associated with consuming processed foods and to take steps to limit their intake. Additionally, adding more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to your diet can help create a balanced eating plan and reduce the risk for chronic illnesses.
5. Reducing Your Consumption of Processed Foods
Process labels can be deceiving, often prodiving little factual information and making false claims that are meant to differentiate their product from competitors. Knowing what to look for and how to read labels is key to eating a healthier diet. Here, we outline five tips to help reduce a processed food intake and increase your nutritional health:
- Look For Whole Foods: Eating whole foods is one of the best things people can do for their health. The goal is to eat food in its most natural state and not something that has been processed and chemically altered. Whole foods contain nutrients, vitamins, fiber, and are often low in sugar and salt.
- Know The Ingredients: Reading labels is an important part of knowing what you’re putting into your body. Be sure to note the sugar content, sodium content, and preservative levels, as many of these processed foods are riddled with unhealthy ingredients.
- Shop The Outer Rim: The outer portion of the grocery store is typically where the healthiest foods can be found, such as fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Avoid the center aisles as that’s where processed and pre-packaged food items tend to be located.
- Avoid Added Sugars: Many processed foods are hiding added sugars, even those that don’t appear to be sweet. This includes condiments, sauces, and other canned goods. Be sure to read labels and check for added sugars and hidden names for sugar.
- Get Creative With Your Diet: Variety is key to reducing both boring and unhealthy foods. Try to think outside the box and get creative in the kitchen. If you’re used to processed foods, like pasta or frozen meals, make the effort to learn how to cook with whole ingredients instead.
Sticking to a diet full of natural and unprocessed foods can ensure that you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs to function and thrive. Incorporating fresh foods into your diet can help reduce the intake of processed foods and improve your overall health.
6. Nutritional Foods as an Alternative to Processed Foods
Processed food is everywhere we look. From sodas to frozen dinners, it’s almost impossible to navigate a grocery store without coming across something that’s not real food. Sadly, this fact has become an unfortunate part of daily life. But the hidden dangers that come with processed foods can’t be ignored.
- Added Salt and Sugar: Processed foods contain excessive amounts of salt and sugar, both of which increase our risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Additionally, they can increase belly fat, and even lead to mental health issues.
- Artificial Sweeteners: When manufacturers want to add sweetness to foods without adding excess calories, they’ll often use artificial sweeteners. Besides being potentially toxic to our cells and brain, they can interfere with our body’s natural ability to regulate its blood sugar.
- Chemical Preservatives: Many processed foods contain preservatives to extend their shelf life. While they don’t add any nutritional benefit, they can change the cells of our bodies and can damage our cells and DNA.
- Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs): Genetically modified foods are created by altering the genes of plants to make them resistant to pests or withstand harsher climates. This allows them to stay fresher for longer, but GMO consumption has been linked to increased inflammation and altered gut bacteria.
Nutritional alternatives to processed foods can provide us with more nutrient-dense options. Instead of relying on artificial sugars, artificial fillers, and high amounts of sodium, choosing whole foods can give us essential vitamins and minerals that can help us maintain our health. Nutritional alternatives include fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and whole grains. These foods are naturally lower in calories and fat and offer the maximum nutritional benefit.
When it comes to processed foods, the hidden dangers can’t be ignored. It’s essential to establish a balanced diet that includes nutrient-dense options. Making smarter food choices can help protect our bodies from the hidden dangers of processed foods.
Despite the many unknown dangers associated with processed foods, all is not lost. There are steps you can take to make healthier choices and avoid the potential health risks of processed foods. By making smarter decisions about the foods you put into your body, you can be well on your way to a healthier lifestyle.