It’s safe to say that most American consumers probably can’t recall the last time they ate a meal prepared entirely from wholesome, farm-to-table ingredients, without any canned or prepackaged products. That’s because most Americans today consume mostly processed foods—foods produced with pesticides, GMOs and synthetic chemicals, routinely laced with too much sugar, salt and unhealthy fats. Keep in mind that processed foods can contain dozens of additional chemicals that aren't even listed on the label.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines “processed food” as any raw agricultural commodity that has been subjected to processing methods, including canning, cooking, dehydration, freezing or milling. This means that the only time a food can be classified as “fresh” is when you’ve taken it straight from the source (washing it is okay, and would not be classified as a form of processing) and eaten it. By this definition, most foods would be considered processed.
You've probably heard a hundred times, "avoid processed foods as much as possible." But what are "processed foods" and why is it so important to avoid them? Here are a few dangers of consuming processed foods...
1. Processed foods are usually loaded with added sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup
It is well known that sugar, when consumed in excess, is seriously harmful. As we all know, sugar is "empty" calories - it has no essential nutrients, but a large amount of energy, empty calories are really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the harmful effects of sugar.
Many studies show that sugar can have devastating effects on metabolism that go way beyond its calorie content. It can lead to insulin resistance high triglycerides, increased levels of the harmful cholesterol and increased fat accumulation in the liver and abdominal cavity. Sugar consumption is strongly associated with some of the world's leading killers including heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer.
2. Leading to addiction
Another one of the harmful properties and impacts of processed foods is addiction. As previously mentioned, processed foods trigger a hyper-rewarding state and make people overeat. It is hard to give up something sweet and fatty if you are eating it regularly. Processed foods are known to cause addiction just like cigarettes and drugs do.
As the foods are processed, they lose water, fiber, and nutrients. Once they are consumed, neurotransmitter dopamine is stimulated which makes you feel good despite the lack of essentials. The artificial stimulation of dopamine leads to food cravings and excessive eating. Ultimately, you can become addicted to food, specifically to processed food.
3. Sodium Overload
While sodium is beneficial to human bodies, it can cause major problems when there's too much of it. Nearly all processed foods contain absurd amounts of sodium that make food tastier and addictive. Restaurants are also known to add more salt than necessary to their dishes so that they will taste better.
High-sodium diets are often a factor causing high blood pressure and can lead to heart diseases or stroke. Excess sodium in body also causes kidneys to hold more water than necessary. This can lead to conditions such as swelling in various body parts.
Exposure to plastic chemicals, including BPAs and phthalates, can cause hormonal havoc in the body. Since all processed foods come swaddled in plenty of plastic, all those plastic chemicals could be steadily accumulating in your body. A recent study showed that consumption of fast food was correlated with increased exposure to industrial chemicals known as phthalates. Unfortunately, exposure to these chemicals can have a disruptive impact on your hormones and health, as they seep into the body easily and kick out the body's natural hormones from places they need to be. Avoid packaged foods as often as possible, especially if your hormones are already imbalanced.
5. Processed Foods Are Often High in Trans Fats and Processed Vegetable Oils
Synthetic trans fats are common in foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, such as crackers, chips, most store-bought baked goods, and any fried foods, just to name a few examples. Synthetic trans fats are known to promote inflammation, which is a hallmark of most chronic and/or serious diseases. Most also contain high amounts of omega-6 fats in the form of processed vegetable oils. These polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) tend to stimulate inflammatory processes in your body, and they are very chemically unstable and prone to oxidation. Consuming these oxidized fats in excess has been linked to all sorts of health problems, such as atherosclerosis and heart disease.
Eating mostly a whole foods diet with very limited to no processed foods is paramount to health and happiness. Putting your health first when it comes to diet will pay off in the long run.
A serial entrepreneur and former financial advisor, Jean Titus discovered his purpose and passion through the heartache of losing loved ones far too early. He lives his mantra – “We rise by lifting others” – daily as a life coach and Personal Trainer. Jean brings a simplicity and practicality to his work, helping clients draw on their strengths to realize the one thing money can’t buy – good health and wellness. Follow him on Instagram and his fitness journey!