Search topics like “why processed foods are unhealthy” are common these days. We put this down to the increased consciousness of consumers in food selection and consumption in the last decade. Twenty years ago, my dad would eat virtually anything. But not today. The first question he’s asking when I buy him groceries these days is, “I hope those are healthy? Are they sustainable?” That tires me sometimes.
Now, don’t give me that look. I know he’s merely trying to stay healthy until he reaches 90 or 100 and something. But it honestly tires me—albeit it’s a positive type of fatigue. Before I drive out to the store these days, trust to hear him shouting, “don’t get me processed foods!” Thankfully, millions of other Americans are adopting this diet choice, as well.
However, despite the crusades and campaigns, many still don’t believe the dangers associated with processed foods. Or most times, they do but choose to ignore. They are still alive and kicking after all. It’s common to hear that processed foods taste more delicious—a fact I agree with—and that they may not be as harmful as we portray them.
I have been there. Trust me; it is difficult to let go of canned fish, red meat, processed turkey, granola bar, or a timesaving breakfast sandwich. Eventually, I did, though—why wouldn’t I? These foods were damaging my health in a million ways more than I was thinking. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but you get the point.
Processed foods are highly unhealthy—there are no doubts about it. Below, I’ll discuss the reasons behind this, but first—what are the types of processed foods?
There are four types of processed foods. I mean, pre-cut watermelon is a processed food, but does that make it unhealthy? Definitely not—except you add sugar or its evil twin fructose to your fruits before eating. Do you?
The NOVA food classification lists these categories; they are:
- Minimally processed foods: these are mainly processed for preservation, and usually retain natural nutrients.
- Processed culinary ingredients: these are basically for cooking other foods. They are made from natural or minimally processed foods. Examples include whole-grain flour, oil, sugar, butter, and salt.
- Processed foods: these are made from adding processed culinary ingredients to natural or minimally processed foods. They are typically ready-to-eat. Examples are canned vegetables, bread, and cheese.
- Ultra-processed foods and drinks: these are formulated with industrial chemicals and offer virtually no nutrients. Apart from containing mildly harmful ingredients like sugar and margarine, ultra-processed foods use additives, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors. In simple words, they are “foods made from chemicals.”
They offer arguably 5% of nutrients obtainable in natural foods. Ultra-processed foods are usually attractive, convenient, quick, branded, and tasty. Examples are cookies, cakes, sugary soft drinks, readymade meals, cheeses, popcorn, and many more. These foods are the commonest in our diets—perhaps that explains why the average American suffers from critical conditions, such as heart diseases, obesity, cardio challenges amidst many more.
5 Reasons Why Processed Foods Are Unhealthy
Having explained the basic concept behind processed foods, it is necessary to look at why you should never try out a canned meal anymore.
Processed Foods Are Loaded With Sugar
Processed Foods are 50–60% sugar or fructose corn syrup. A recent study revealed that processed foods contribute 90% of the entire added sugar in an American diet. If you’re eating a slice of cake right now, it may hurt to tell you that all you’re eating is sugar—so, I probably shouldn’t tell you the truth.
Here’s a nicer way to put it: added sugar sweetens foods, offers zero calories, no nutrients, and is killing your heart. But that may be nothing though—I mean, the heart isn’t that important, is it? Who cares for a functional heart these days? Definitely not you if you keep eating that cookie.
Zero Fiber Contents
Soluble, fermentable fiber is beneficial to the body, but I suppose the companies producing processed foods don’t know—or they simply don’t care. Such a symbiotic relationship. You fund them with your cash, and they do a little damage to your health.
Significant use of fiber is that it slows the body’s absorption of carbs. Furthermore, it helps to satisfy the body by eating fewer calories. Fibers are also excellent probiotics, which are good bacteria that protect the gut.
Processed foods, however, have no fiber due to the changes in their chemical structures during production—thereby depriving you of all essential benefits.
Made With Addictive Chemicals
Here’s a dare: fetch a bowl of cookies now and eat just one. I bet you can’t, although you now know the associated dangers.
Well, don’t fault yourself much—or you may. Processed foods are chemically changed during production such that your brain secretes dopamine when you eat them. Dopamine is associated with happiness and positive emotions.
This may mean you’re addicted to cookies—instead of cocaine or nicotine. Is that a good thing? I can’t tell. Some of us are glad to destroy our health over time.
Much of a Science Fair Exhibition
If you have a pack of potato chips nearby, grab one and go through the label. I suppose you can’t identify five of the ingredients listed—except you’re a meticulous lab worker. Okay, here’s something easier: pronounce five without biting your tongue.
Don’t think it’s nothing. It’s a lot. These ingredients are chemicals that were included just to improve taste, texture, or allow a longer life on the shelves without spoilage. What’s worse, the so-called food control organizations are on it. Else, why let the manufacturer use the word “artificial flavors” instead of the actual chemicals used?
So—in every sense—processed foods are more of a science project than food. I’m not sure you want to eat that.
Skyrocketing Sodium Levels
The body needs a moderate level of salt to function but, again, it’s either these companies don’t know or care. The American Heart Association recommends at most 1350 grams of sodium daily—a dosage you can reach with breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Funnily—or sadly—many don’t think so. Would you believe that a 2-ounce serving of processed turkey supplies the body with 450 grams of sodium? That’s about 1/3 of the recommended intake. Note that’s from just a two-ounce meal. It’s my guess you eat at least a 10-ounce serving daily; that’s about 2, 250 grams.
Amazingly destructive. Isn’t it?
I could go on and on discussing why processed foods are unhealthy. The list of harms you expose yourself to by eating these foods is inexhaustible. There may be one or two benefits to gain from these foods, but your best bet is to steer clear. There are several alternatives you can replace these foods with.