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You’ve probably heard “avoid processed food” and “processed food is bad for you”. But is it really true? We’ve all heard things that turn out to be wrong a few years later (like fat is bad for you). Is it the same with processed food? What’s wrong with processed food anyway?
In this three part series, we’re going to take some time to talk about processed food. Specifically, we’ll cover three parts:
2: Is it really bad for us?
In Part 1, we covered “What Exactly is Processed Food”. If you missed it, check it out here! Today we’ll cover “What’s Wrong with Processed Food?”.
What’s Wrong with Processed Food?
You might be asking…okay, so what’s the problem? We, as humans, are smart enough to make machines that solve the problems we have (like lack of time or the desire for convenience).
Or maybe we’re not really very smart at all. We’ve been fooled to think processed “food” on the shelves at the store is okay to eat regularly without causing problems in our bodies.
But really, processed food lacks the nutrients our bodies need to be healthy. And actually the ingredients found in processed food cause many diseases that we see today.
Processed food is full of refined oils, refined sugar, and refined salt (we’ll discuss each of these in detail later). In addition to these refined ingredients, you’ll also find chemicals, fillers, and artificial flavors and colors to make it taste or look a certain way.
Backed by Science
This isn’t just my opinion, by the way. I’m not on a vendetta against all processed food (well, maybe I am) but it’s all backed by science. And for me personally, it’s backed by experience. I feel better when I don’t eat heavily processed foods. I have more energy and my mood is better. Here are a few studies that have proven some harmful effects of processed food.
- This study showed that people who ate a high processed food diet were more likely to suffer from depression than people who ate a whole foods diet.
- In this study, they found that higher levels of HbA1c (a measure of glucose in your blood) is linked to cognitive decline.
- Another study found that drinking sugary drinks could increase your risk for cancer.
In February 2018, the British Medical Journal published a study that found a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with a significant increase of greater than 10% in risks of overall and breast cancer.
If you’re wondering what ultra-processed means, it’s “food” that typically contains five or more ingredients. And these ingredients were manufactured, not grown.
Basically if it’s hard to figure out how the item you’re eating was once a plant or animal, it’s in this category. Unfortunately, these foods are extremely common in America. But because of clever marketing, we’re led to believe the food we’re eating is “natural” and “healthy”.
Some examples are cereal, energy bars, carbonated beverages, pastries, cake mixes, instant soups and sauces, and margarines and spreads.
I bet you wouldn’t have to look far to find a few of those items in your kitchen. Well, let’s dive in to figure out what’s wrong with the ingredients that make up processed food.
To make processed food, you need to use ingredients that won’t spoil (remember the long shelf life?).
Unfortunately (for our health) scientists stepped up and created an oil that fit the bill. It’s treated with very high pressure and heat so that it won’t spoil the food.
Well, the problem is that in heating the oil and treating it (called refining), you end up with a substance that’s altered at the molecular level. Sure, the oil won’t spoil the flavor of the processed food. But nutritionally, it is severely compromised.
If you’re interested in learning more about oils and the dangers of heating them, read this post about important things to know about oils.
Processed food is filled with these refined oils which can release free radicals into our bodies. Free radicals damage the cells in your body. Did you know that research is finding that free radicals are the cause of almost every disease?
Sounds like something to avoid, if you ask me!
The American Heart Association recommends no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day for women (9 for men). And yet, most Americans today are consuming 57 pounds of added sugar each year. That’s about 17 teaspoons per day!
And a good chunk of this sugar is coming from processed foods.
My sister and her husband are going a whole year without eating refined sugar. They learned pretty quickly that even though you wouldn’t think sugar would be added to something like salad dressing. It is!
And who would put sugar in a can of beans? Well, a lot of companies do.
What about cheese? Well…surprise surprise. There are even cheeses that have sugar added to them.
There’s sugar added to so many different foods, it’s unbelievable. If you start checking labels, you’ll see it.
Some problems with sugar…
- Sugar consumption has been linked with heart disease.
- It always leaves you wanting more. One bite is never enough!
- Sugar intake has been linked to depression.
Hopefully you agree that minimizing added sugars is good for your health.
Refined Salt (like table salt and the salt in processed food) is heated to such extreme temperatures in the extraction process that most of the beneficial minerals are destroyed.
To keep salt dry in commercial operations, harmful additives are often added, including aluminum.
And refined salt can be “hidden” in processed food since it doesn’t taste as salty…even though the sodium count is higher in table salt than natural salt. Did you know that a single flour tortilla has 25% of your daily value of sodium? Sheesh!
Table salt and processed salt aren’t the same as natural salt. Here are some benefits of natural salt:
- Natural salt is processed on low heat, if at all. This means the minerals are still present when they get to us.
- The trace minerals found in these salts help us stay hydrated, and balance the sodium/potassium ratios.
- They also contain important trace elements that are needed for thyroid and adrenal function.
- Natural salt helps our bodies create digestive enzymes needed for optimal nutrient and vitamin absorption.
Some specific types of natural, unprocessed salts readily available on Amazon (click the link to read more about each type):
- Himalayan Pink Salt contains over 80 essential minerals and trace elements.
- Salt from Brittany is farmed according to ancient methods and has minerals intact.
- Celtic salt is an unprocessed salt option rich in minerals.
Our bodies need salt. Too little salt leads to problems, as does too much salt. But when we’re fueled by processed food, it’s hard to tell if we’re eating too much or too little.
Once your body has a chance to operate without processed food (and refined salt), you’ll be more able to tell just by taste if your body needs more. When you crave salt, add a little extra salt to your food. It’s as simple as that. Add salt, to taste.
Tell Me What You Think
So what do you think? Are you convinced that processed food is worth avoiding, or at least limiting?
I’d love to hear from you. Do you think processed food has had an effect on your health? Why or why not? Comment below to let me know.
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