Top 5 Reasons To Avoid Processed Food
Cheap junk food is everywhere – at the supermarket, local store, or nearby gas station. After all, it’s difficult to avoid the processed food on supermarkets’ shelves, so we add it to our shopping carts. Processing is the method of adding chemical ingredients to foods in order to achieve flavor, add color or increase shelf-life. But, aside from being appealing and delicious, is processed food healthy?
Types of processed food
Minimally processed foods like cheese and butter are still healthy for most adults, but most heavily processed (ultra-processed) foods such as chips, frozen foods, or soft drinks are generally considered unhealthy. Depending on the degree of processing, there are a few categories of foods that we can find on supermarkets’ shelves. These are minimally processed, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods, and ultra-processed foods.
Fruits, vegetables, nuts, milk, and eggs are the best examples of natural unprocessed foods. Diets like the infamous Paleo include only similar unprocessed foods, which our ancestors consumed in the past. The philosophy of the Paleo diet explains why unprocessed foods have noteworthy benefits for weight control and better health.
Minimally processed foods
Minimally processed foods are unprocessed foods altered by drying, grinding, crushing, roasting, freezing, and more. Commonly, these processing methods don’t involve the use of chemical additives. Examples of minimally processed foods are dried herbs, most frozen fruits, frozen vegetables, and milk.
Processed culinary ingredients
Processed culinary ingredients derive from foods by pressing, refining, or grinding these foods. All plant-based oils, butter, vinegar, salt, and sugar fall into the category of processed culinary ingredients. Obviously, culinary ingredients shouldn’t be consumed alone but together with other foods, mainly with minimally processed foods.
Processed foods are a combination of minimally processed foods and processed culinary ingredients. Foods from this group can be readily eaten without further preparation, and usually contain salt, sugar, and trans fats. Canned vegetables, pasta sauces, canned fish, and some bread are just a few of the examples of processed foods.
Ultra-processed foods, except salt, fat, and sugar, contain even more artificial additives and preservatives, which add color and flavor and extend the shelf-life of the product. Ultra-processed foods are ready to eat and usually don’t require any additional preparation. Nutritionists condemn ultra-processed foods as unhealthy, no matter how delicious they are.
Part of the ingredients used in the preparation stages of ultra-processed foods may contain additives that increase our cravings. People consuming junk foods, for example, often crave more food shortly after finishing their meal. The lack of vitamins, minerals, and fiber in ultra-processed foods also contributes to punishing them with the unhealthy label.
Why should we avoid processed foods?
Now that we have looked into the different categories of processed foods, I will emphasize some of the main reasons to avoid processed foods, especially ultra-processed foods. While most minimally processed foods and processed culinary ingredients can remain on our “healthy meals” list, heavily processed foods may pose numerous problems like obesity, health issues, skin irritation, depression, and more.
Consumption of processed and heavily processed foods may lead to the risk of weight gain and obesity. Scientific research has evaluated the association between ultra-processed food and obesity by concluding that people consuming mainly processed foods had a higher level of blood glucose and cholesterol. These conditions usually lead to weight gain, metabolic issues, and, in some cases, obesity.
One recent study looked into a very large sample of 7500 Australians eating mainly processed foods such as microwaveable frozen foods, confectionery, packaged sweet and savory snacks, and others. The study found that people who consumed more heavily processed food gained weight, compared to people consuming natural and minimally processed food.
Salt, sugar, and trans fats consumption may lead to obesity. In fact, processed culinary ingredients are also unhealthy, if we don’t use them in moderation. In contrast to minimally processed foods, most processed and ultra-processed foods contain very large amount of slat and sugar. Careful consideration of food labels can help us to determine if the amount of these ingredients in the food will pose any dangers to our health.
Ultra-processed foods consumption may cause high blood pressure. According to science, people eating mostly processed foods have higher blood pressure (hypertension). One study of 2021 even confirmed that the higher the ultra-processed food consumption, the higher the risk of hypertension in adults.
One of the reasons for changes in blood pressure of people consuming processed foods is the sugar ingredient in these foods. As a matter of fact, science has also proved that the consumption of sugary foods will lead to an increase in blood pressure. Since not all processed foods contain the same ingredients, checking food labels before choosing our meal is mandatory.
Consumption of processed and ultra-processed foods may increase the risk of Diabetes type 2. Numerous case studies investigated the relationship between processed foods and diabetes and similarly concluded that the more processed foods we consume, the higher the risk of developing diabetes.
Ultra-processed foods contain saturated fats, refined carbs, and sugar, all posing risks to our overall health. In reality, most obese adults suffer from Diabetes 2, and processed foods cause weight gain and obesity. Also, the consumption of refined carbs from processed foods may increase the chance of developing Diabetes type 2 since refined carbs affect the blood sugar level quickly and negatively.
People feel tired and less motivated after consuming ultra-processed foods. In fact, when consuming processed foods, our blood levels sharply increase, and then sharply decrease, which leads to loss of energy and tiredness. While most natural foods can control the energy balance, processed foods will most likely lead us to tiredness, fatigue and even depression.
The connection between diets and depression is another very popular topic online. Certainly, followers of the Mediterranean diet, including fruits, veggies, and minimally processed foods, reported that they were very energetic during their dieting routine. Eating junk food, however, will definitely have the opposite effect on our bodies.
Processed foods affect our brain and thinking ability. We often believe that junk food gives us the relieving effect from work overload, snacking while working on our assignment. Still, science claims that it has exactly the opposite effect on our mental abilities.
While luring us with its delicious taste, ultra-processed food will usually slow down our mental processes due to the increase of insulin in our bodies after food consumption. The high level of insulin makes the brain stop responding to this hormone, which, in turn, will slow down our cognitive ability and thought.
On the good side
Not all the processed foods are bad for our health, and some ultra-processed foods are even good for us if consumed in moderation. While most minimally processed foods and culinary ingredients are an inseparable part of our eating regimens, we can certainly cut off most junk foods. Except low in nutrients, heavily processed foods are unhealthy and addictive.
If we decide to include ultra-processed foods on our shopping list, it is always wise to check food labels and additives. In fact, not all products contain high amounts of sugar and trans fats. Modern manufacturing techniques allow producers to spare some of the bad ingredients and substitute them with healthier ones.
No matter what we decide to eat, we should always remember the 5 reasons to not overcome with processed and ultra-processed foods. Scientific evidence proved that most of the statements are true, so following them will definitely benefit our health.