Do you often reach for that cereal box in the morning or heat a microwave meal for lunch? Maybe you enjoy a chocolate bar as a quick snack or love the convenience of frozen pizzas for a hassle-free dinner.
If so, you’re not alone. In our busy day-to-day lives, the speed, simplicity, and shelf life of processed foods can be incredibly appealing. But have you ever wondered what these convenient choices could do to your health?
This blog will explore that very question.
We’ll discuss why processed foods are unhealthy, which ones to avoid, and helpful tips for checking food labels. Becoming aware of these health risks allows us to make more informed dietary choices for our overall well-being.
What are Processed Foods?
When we talk about processed foods, it’s not just microwave meals and candy bars that come to mind. The term “processed food” applies to any food altered in some way from its natural state, primarily for safety reasons or convenience. Processes food manufacturers often use include:
- Adding preservatives
In comparison, whole or organic foods contain more nutrients and fewer unhealthy elements than processed foods.
The Spectrum of Processed Foods
Not all processed foods are created equal. They fall on a spectrum, from minimally processed foods like bagged spinach and roasted nuts to heavily processed foods like frozen pizza and breakfast cereals.
Minimally processed foods often retain most of their inherent nutritional value. Some examples, like frozen vegetables, canned beans, and whole-grain pasta, can be part of a balanced diet.
Highly processed foods, on the other hand, contain ingredients that extend shelf life and enhance flavor. These include sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup, unhealthy fats, excess sodium, food colorings, artificial flavorings, and preservatives that strip the food’s nutritional value.
Why Is Processed Food Bad for You?
Processed foods may offer convenience, but they exact a heavy price on our health. Let’s delve deeper into the dangers of processed foods.
Many commercially prepared foods undergo a refinement process that strips away crucial elements like vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Despite providing calories, they lack essential nutrients for bodily functions, leading to undernourishment and potential health issues.
Higher Diabetes Risk
High levels of refined carbohydrates and added sugars are typical in processed foods. Consumption of these foods results in rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, leading to excessive insulin production. Over time, these frequent fluctuations can increase the risk of insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
Contributor to Obesity
While commercially prepared foods are convenient, they are usually high in calories and low in satiety value. Plus, their pleasing flavors can lead us to overeat, causing significant weight gain and contributing to the obesity epidemic.
Chronic Health Risks
Regular consumption of processed foods can silently contribute to chronic health conditions. These foods increase risks for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer.
Poor Gut Health
Processed foods lack dietary fiber, a vital nutrient for digestion and nourishing gut bacteria. The absence of sufficient fiber, combined with unhealthy ingredients, can disturb the balance of our gut microbiota, leading to dysbiosis. This condition has a connection with various health issues, such as inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Mental Health Impact
Emerging research suggests that processed foods may also impact our mental health. A diet high in processed foods increases depression and anxiety risks. It is likely the result of nutrient deficiencies and fluctuations in blood sugar levels that affect brain function and mood.
Detrimental Effects Beyond Health
In addition to health effects, commercially prepared foods have a significant environmental footprint, contributing to waste and pollution. They also contribute to societal problems, including a rise in chronic diseases that drive up healthcare costs.
Processed Foods to Avoid
It’s crucial to identify some of the biggest culprits that pose significant risks to our health. Limiting all manufactured foods is ideal, but there are a few that are particularly concerning:
1. Processed Meats
Food manufacturers make processed meats such as sausages, hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meats through smoking, curing, or adding preservatives. Regularly consuming these foods also contributes to developing chronic diseases.
2. Sugary Beverages
Soft drinks, sports drinks, and even some juices can contain high amounts of added sugars. Regularly drinking these can lead to excessive weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay.
3. Pre-packaged Snacks
Chips, cookies, and cakes might satisfy your sweet or salty cravings, but they often contain unhealthy ingredients like trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, and high sodium levels.
4. Refined Grains
Products like white bread, white pasta, and white rice have had most of their fiber and nutrients stripped away. They can contribute to blood sugar spikes and are less satisfying than their whole-grain counterparts, which can lead to overeating.
5. Frozen Meals
While convenient, many frozen meals contain high amounts of sodium and may have unhealthy fats and sugars. High sodium intake can contribute to kidney problems and hypertension, a risk factor for heart disease.
6. Candy and Chocolates
These sweet treats are high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and calories while providing little nutritional value. Regular consumption can contribute to weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes.
Tips on How to Spot Unhealthy Processed Foods
Clever marketing and unclear labeling can make it challenging to spot these dietary culprits. However, learning a few essential tricks allows you to make healthier choices while grocery shopping and planning meals.
1. Read Food Labels Effectively
Scrutinize food labels. The law compels manufacturers to list ingredients according to their proportion in the product. Therefore, if sugar, salt, or any form of fat appears at the top, the product is likely high in these components. Also, look for words like “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils, which indicate unhealthy trans fats.
2. Identify Hidden Sugars
The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests adults and children consume no more than 10% of their total energy from free sugars per day. Further reducing this to below 5% (6 teaspoons) per day would yield additional health benefits.
Watch out for sugars that often masquerade under different names, many of which end in “-ose.” You may be consuming more than you should if you’re not aware of the following forms of sugar:
|treacle||rice syrup||dextrose||cane juice|
|caramel||invert sugar||glucose||corn sweetener|
|panocha||muscovado||lactose||fruit juice concentrates|
|molasses||agave nectar||fructose||dehydrated cane juice|
|ethyl maltol||malt sugar||maltose||high fructose corn syrup|
3. Recognize Misleading Marketing Claims
Be aware of marketing claims that sound healthy but can be misleading. Phrases like “made with real fruit” or “contains whole grains” may make a product seem healthy when, in reality, these could be minor ingredients, and the product may still contain high levels of sugar or unhealthy fats. Remember, “low-fat” doesn’t necessarily mean “low-sugar” or “healthy.” Always check the nutritional label to confirm.
4. Spot “Ultra-Processed” Foods
Ultra-processed foods have been significantly altered from their original state through various processes such as dehydration, extraction, and chemical transformation. These include instant noodles, packaged snacks, fizzy drinks, and frozen dinners.
They often contain artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, and other additives, extending shelf life and enhancing taste. Identifying and minimizing these foods is a crucial step toward healthier eating.
5. Watch Out for Unhealthy Fats and Processed Oils
Processed oils such as corn, soybean, and canola oil often undergo extensive refining and bleaching, stripping away many of their nutrients. You should also look for “partially hydrogenated oils,” a term that indicates the presence of trans fats. This type of fat raises the risk of heart disease.
Moreover, while necessary in moderation, saturated fats are harmful in excess and are often hidden as “palm oil,” “coconut oil,” or “lard.” Consuming high amounts of these fats can cause a rise in “bad” LDL cholesterol and a decline in “good” HDL cholesterol, contributing to cardiovascular disease.
Make the Best Dietary Choice: Go for a Plant-Based Diet!
Nourish your body the natural way! Prioritizing whole foods or a plant-based diet is key to better health. While it can be unrealistic for many to drastically eliminate processed foods, choosing better food options and incorporating more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains into daily meals can make a substantial difference to your well-being.
At Premier Health and Wellness Center, we champion the shift from processed foods to a whole foods lifestyle as part of our diabetes reversal programs, weight loss programs, and nutritional therapy.
Our personalized diabetes reversal program helps you manage your blood sugar levels better, with a significant focus on dietary changes. Similarly, our weight loss programs incorporate a balanced, nutritious eating plan, moving away from processed foods and towards nutrient-dense, natural foods that support healthy weight loss.
We also provide nutritional therapy focusing on devising personalized, healthy eating plans for you. Our nutritionists will base these on what nutrients you lack and your dietary needs. Schedule a consultation online or call 441-292-5111 to learn more about our services!
Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Each individual’s health condition and medical history can vary, and it is essential to seek personalized advice before implementing any changes to your lifestyle or treatment plan.