As humans, we are constantly looking for ways to make our lives more convenient. And thanks to technology, this was made possible.
Over the past decades, our quest for convenience touched even food – canned foods, frozen pizzas, fast foods, ready-to-eat meals – you name it! Processed foods were easily a part of our diets.
But the thing is, while we’ve saved time and energy consuming “convenient” processed foods, many of us confronted health issues too, from obesity to heart disease and even cancer.
So, why are processed foods bad? We’ve made a list of the several reasons why processed foods are harmful to your health.
What are Processed Foods?
Before we get down to it, let us first define what processed food is. The term “processed” often confuses a lot of people because it’s pretty obvious that foods undergo some sort of a process.
So, let’s begin by sorting these processes: mechanical and chemical.
Mechanical processes are methods that make it easier for a person to cook or consume food. Such techniques include chopping, slicing, removing the skin, and mixing of solid ingredients.
This kind of process does not involve natural or chemical additives.
On the other hand, chemical processes involve more complex techniques such as liquefying, macerating, adding or removing sugar, fats, enhancers, preservatives, and other elements.
Processed foods undergo this type of process, making them packed with refined ingredients and artificial substances.
Why are Processed Foods Bad for Your Health?
So, now that you know what is a “processed” food, let’s explore how they can be dangerous to your health:
Processed foods contain added sugar
Processed foods commonly contain significant amounts of sugar or fructose corn syrup. Both are known to be harmful to human health when consumed excessively.
Sugar, for instance, contains “empty” calories and has no vital nutrients. Worse, it can even have harmful effects on one’s metabolism.
Several epidemiological studies revealed that sugar consumption played a role in metabolic diseases. It was found that sugar increases the risk of metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
And while most people don’t add too many sugars to their drinks such as juices or coffee, they still expose themselves to the harmful effects of excessive sugar intake.
Eating processed foods or drinking beverages that are sugar-sweetened can contribute to these adverse effects.
Sugar-sweetened beverages and processed foods such as cookies and pastries are loaded with added sugar.
Taking these sugar-loaded foods and beverages can lead to diseases such as diabetes, especially when they are consumed excessively.
Processed foods also contain artificial ingredients
Have you ever tried to read the label of packed processed food and found yourself completely clueless?
The reason is quite simple:
Most of the ingredients used in processed foods are not real food, only artificial chemicals that aim to serve different purposes.
Processed foods commonly come with preservatives to keep the food from getting spoiled quickly.
They also use colorants, which are obviously used to add color to the food, flavorings to add more flavor, and texturants to give the foods more composition.
That's not all:
Many processed foods make use of other chemicals which are not even indicated on its packaging.
“Artificial flavor”, for instance, does not come as it is, and common sense will dictate it’s a mixture of many chemicals.
It may translate to ten chemicals combined together to provide a certain flavor. And unfortunately, most chemicals used in artificial flavors are not actually “safe”.
Processed foods contain high unhealthy fats
Not only are processed foods high in artificial ingredients, which can be potentially dangerous to your health but in unhealthy fats, too.
Processed foods are typically packed with cheap fats like hydrogenated soybean oil, which result in what we now know as trans fats.
Consuming foods that are high in trans fatty acids (TFA) puts you at risk of developing coronary heart disease, diabetes mellitus, and even sudden death.
This is because TFA promotes inflammation and endothelial dysfunction, an established response to the risk factors of cardiovascular disease and a known precedent to atherosclerosis.
Processed foods are high in refined carbs
Many processed foods contain high refined carbohydrates. But while carbohydrates are essentially a great source of energy for various organisms, they are best consumed from whole food.
Carbohydrates are classified into two: simple and complex. Of the two, complex carbohydrates are said to be a healthier substitute for dietary fats.
But it was found that complex carbs produce glycemic responses even higher than simple sugars. Thus, it was concluded that complex carbohydrates do not necessarily mean quality carbohydrates.
Unfortunately, Western diets are high in processed carbohydrates with pizza, rolls, bread, and cold cereals usually rounding up the list.
Earlier studies revealed that these carbohydrates are especially harmful to people who are overweight or obese, which suggests that the carb’s negative effects are worsened by underlying insulin resistance.
It could get worse:
The increasing consumption of refined carbohydrates poses the risk of acquiring cardiometabolic disorders. This is a global issue that’s been putting people in danger of heart attack or stroke and death from coronary heart disease.
Because of this, people are advised to reduce their consumption of refined carbohydrates found in many processed foods and consume foods that contain unsaturated fats and high protein instead.
Processed foods are low in essential nutrients and fiber
What could possibly make unhealthy processed foods worse? They do not only contain artificial ingredients and “bad” fats, but they are also essentially low in nutrients and fiber.
The reason for this? Chemical processing.
The chemical processing of foods eradicates the natural fiber and nutrients contained in whole foods.
So, while whole foods are rich in antioxidants, nutrients, vitamins, and minerals, all of these are destroyed when they undergo chemical processing.
These lost nutrients lead to nutritional gaps even if processed foods have been labeled “enriched with vitamins and minerals” as we all often notice in their packaging.
What most manufacturers claim as added vitamins and minerals are usually the low-grade or synthetic version of the substantial stuff!
Fiber is likewise stripped off during chemical processing, which is an unfortunate thing since fiber is good for your digestive system and nourishment.
It is also beneficial in promoting gut health and prevents the risk of constipation and other digestive problems.
Processed foods encourage overeating
Our palates draw us closer to foods that are essential for our survival: salty, fatty, and sweet foods as they commonly contain the nutrients that we need to keep up with our daily activities.
With this in mind, food manufacturers are exerting their best efforts to make these foods taste as great as possible.
And you know what happens next:
You buy more, resulting in excessive consumption. Many processed foods are crafted to create a sense of “reward” or what is called the “reward hypothesis”.
The dopamine (DA) systems in the brain are said to influence the motivational features of stimuli such as water, food, sex, and drugs. But, various problems were noted due to this hypothesis.
The “rewarding experience” in food causes us to overeat. Processed foods are undeniably satisfying that it affects the way we think and behave, leading us to eat excessively, and harming our health.
Processed foods can lead to junk food addiction
As a result of this reward hypothesis, some people can be addicted to certain foods such as junk foods. And we all know that overconsumption makes us lose control and can potentially lead to addiction.
While most people are not aware of “food addiction”, it is known to plague today’s society with the existence of satisfying processed foods in this case.
It’s been discovered that highly palatable foods, such as junk foods, activate the brain’s reward circuits by the release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters.
This finding explains why many people are addicted to junk foods. Several studies also support the idea that food addiction is indeed happening today.
Processed foods may increase your risk of cancer
Researchers recently found that highly processed foods such as packaged snacks, doughnuts, instant noodles, and sugary drinks increase the risk of cancer.
In a recent study published in the BMJ, it was discovered that foods that are highly processed, or what is now dubbed as “ultra-processed foods”, increase a person’s chances of developing cancer by more than 10%.
While more research is needed to identify the dimension for this increased risk, the findings are still alarming considering that the risk was not eliminated for those who exercised less or do not smoke.
It is easy to be swayed by processed foods, and there’s no denying it. But with the harmful effects they pose to our health, it is time to rethink our food choices.
Now that you know why are processed foods bad for your health, it’s in your hands now to make that healthy change.
Some of the processed foods to avoid include processed meats such as sausages, bacon, and deli meat, and sugar-sweetened beverages such as sodas.
Quick meals or those that are frozen, canned, jarred, and microwavable as well as commercially baked goods such as cookies and doughnuts must be avoided, too.
Instead of consuming these unhealthy processed foods, you can replace them with real ones instead such as fresh produce, meat, and fish, so you can reduce your risk of diseases and achieve good health.