The rate at which Americans consume highly processed foods continues to skyrocket as food manufacturers and restaurant corporations replace whole, natural ingredients with chemically processed substitutes. While there seems to be a recent cultural shift in the awareness of the origins of our food, many people are still choosing to consume foods that are extremely heavy in additives, pesticides, GMOs, and more. Prior to the 1930s, the majority of food was unaltered, but today farming and food processing methods are taking our food further and further away from its natural state.
WHAT IS PROCESSED FOOD?
There’s varying opinions as to what constitutes something as a processed food. In reality, processed food can be anything from naturally preserved foods to completely denatured food. While foods that are minimally processed, such as extra virgin olive oil or home canned tomatoes, can still be nutritious, other highly processed or chemically processed food like high fructose corn syrup offer little to no nutritional benefit. Highly processed foods often contain many artificial additives, hydrogenated oils, and non-food ingredients such as bleaching agents, synthetic vitamins, and alkalizing agents.
PROCESSED FOOD AND YOUR BODY
You may be wondering why people continue to eat processed food if it seems to be lacking in nutritional value and is potentially harmful. Simply put, it tastes good. The rewarding nature of many processed foods causes our brains to crave more and more. Sugar and many highly rewarding junk foods cause a dopamine release in our brains and can also activate similar areas of the brain as certain drugs. No matter how good it may taste, keep in mind these effects on your body the next time you reach for your favorite processed snack:
- Processed foods are high in sugar and high fructose corn syrup: It’s a fairly known fact that an over consumption of sugar can have a negative effect on your health. Sugar doesn’t contain any essential nutrients, but can give a large burst of energy. Besides being full of “empty calories,” sugar can lead to insulin resistance, increased bad cholesterol, increased fat accumulation, and high triglycerides.
- They’re full of artificial ingredients: As mentioned before, chemically processed foods are chocked full of artificial ingredients. Oftentimes they’ll contain preservatives, colorants, texturants, flavor, and other chemicals.
- Processed foods are often high in refined carbs: Carbohydrates from whole foods are much better for you than refined carbohydrates. Refined carbs are quickly broken down in the digestive tract causing high spikes in insulin and blood sugar levels.
- The majority of processed foods are low in nutrients: Compared to whole and unprocessed foods, many processed foods are missing important nutrients. When food is processed, many of the essential nutrients are lost. Even though some processed foods add in synthetic nutrients, they’re not a good replacement for nutrients in whole foods.
- Many processed foods are low in fiber: Fiber helps to feed the good bacteria in your digestive system and can help us to feel more full with fewer calories. When food is processed, it often eliminates the natural fiber that has many essential health benefits.
- It’s takes less energy to process processed foods: Since manufacturers want processed foods to have a long shelf life and be easily consumed, they typically take less energy to eat and digest. When foods are easily to digest, it’s easier to overeat and consume more and more.
- They’re often high in trans fats: Processed foods are full of unhealthy fat such as hydrogenated oil and vegetable oil, which turns into trans fat. These fats are full of omega-6 fatty acids that can cause inflammation in the body.
To give your body the best and healthiest food it can get, try to stick to a diet full of whole foods or lightly processed foods. Keep an eye on where you food comes from, how it’s made, and what ingredients are on the label.