Processed Food: What it is And 6 Ways It’s Bad For You
We all know we’re not supposed to eat processed food, but why? What is so bad about it that we should ignore the convenience and sometimes tastiness of processed food in favor of real, natural food?
Processed food is generally recognized as any food that undergoes chemical processing before it gets to our table. Not all packaged foods are processed foods. If the food is a single ingredient and is simply jarred, it’s still real food. If that same ingredient is subjected to chemical preservatives or flavoring agents, it’s processed food.
6 Ways Processed Food is Bad For You
1. Sugar or HFCS: Processed food often has added sugar or even it’s disgusting cousin High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Any sweetener is considered empty calories and is unnecessary for enjoying many foods. But that’s not even close to the worst aspect of sweetener. Sugars can absolutely devastate your metabolism and send your health into a tailspin, according to arecent study.
Further studiesfind it also can lead to insulin resistance, high triglycerides, increased levels of the harmful cholesterol and increased fat accumulation in the liver and abdominal cavity.
Heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer are all associated with sugar. Even if you don’t add large amounts of sugar to your food, you’re getting excessive amounts if you’re consuming processed foods and drinks.
2. Artificial Ingredients: A good rule of thumb when checking labels is that if you have no idea what an ingredient is, don’t buy it. It’s likely a chemical additive. I sometimes use my phone to google an ingredient if I choose to buy convenience foods while on trips or away from home. The results are often disturbing. Most of the chemical ingredients are added for one of four purposes: as a preservative, coloring agent, flavoring agent or even for texture. And that’s not even considering all the pesticides and GMOs used in processed food.
3. Addictive Qualities: Big food has one goal and that’s to make you eat more of their food. For this reason, processed foods are formulated to reward your brain and can become addictive. In nature, our brains seek out foods that are high in salt, fat and sugar. These foods make our brains scream, “Yay! I’m going to survive the winter!” So, of course, big food companies exploit this process and formulate their foods specifically to trigger this effect. Dopamine is released and the food makes you happy. That makes you want more of that food and the cycle continues. These rewarding junk foods—and sugar—activate the same area of the brain as cocaine, according to a recent study.
4. Refined Carbohydrates: All carbs aren’t evil, but highly-refined, simple carbohydrates that are present in most processed foods are broken down incredibly quickly in the digestive system. That quick breakdown leads to insulin and blood sugar spikes, triggering a blood sugar roller coaster that can lead to chronic disease.
5. Low Nutrient Density: Since the majority of the focus is on taste and repeat purchase, there’s often little to no concern paid to nutrient density. And the nutrients that are present are often chemically added. Lack of nutrient density can trigger brain fog.
6. Trans Fats and Processed Oils: Fats can be healthy, but since manufacturers are looking for inexpensive and addictive they tend to choose cheap, unhealthy fats. Trans fats and highly processed vegetable oils are common in processed food. These highly processed fats can increase risk of heart disease, according to recent studies.
Bottom Line: Eating real food allows you to avoid chemical additives and processes as well as unhealthy fats. Real food also is nutrient dense and doesn’t manipulate your brain’s responses to trigger addiction and overeating. Eating processed food hijacks your body’s natural survival mechanisms and can lead to an unending cycle of unhealthy habits that increase your risk of chronic disease.
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