Chances are you’ve eaten some processed food today. Whether it was breakfast cereal, a granola bar, lunchmeat or a frozen dinner, some part of your diet likely contained one or more of the many preserved, refined, prepared or otherwise messed-around-with packaged foods that line our grocery store shelves.
To be fair, the label “processed foods” covers quite a wide range of consumable items. While pre-cut watermelon technically qualifies as “processed,” it doesn’t lose any of its nutritional value through being cut and packaged for convenience. The main offenders are processed foods that have been chemically–not mechanically– altered.
These 10 facts about highly processed foods might make you think twice before reaching for your next snack.
1. They are loaded with sugar.
Processed food are usually loaded with sugar or its evil twin, high fructose corn syrup. It is so prevalent, in fact, that a recent study found that processed foods were responsible for nearly 90 percent of added sugars in an average American diet.
Although sugars provide energy, they are considered empty calories as they do not contain any real nutrients. Ingesting too much of the sweet stuff can lead to a host of other issues and have devastating effects on the metabolism.
2. They are stripped of fiber.
Fiber, especially the soluble and fermentable ones has many benefits. Among them is the ability to slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and help us feel more satisfied with fewer calories. Processed foods that are chemically altered are often stripped off their fibers during processing, leading to quicker digestion which can make it more difficult for your body to feel satisfied.
3. They are altered to be addictive.
“Once you pop, you can’t stop” – Pringles
There is actually science behind the tagline of your favorite crunchy snack. Processed foods like potato chips are often altered to be ‘hyper-rewarding’, releasing an intense hit of the reward-related neurotransimitter dopamine when consumed. This is the main reason why many people struggle to stop eating processed foods like snacks and other junkfood, battling food addiction.
4. They can cause mood swings
Let’s all be honest. We tend to get a little bit ‘hangry’ when we have waited too long to eat. But grabbing that convenient candy bar or bag of chips to satisfy our hunger may actually take our mood from bad to worse. A new study links the trans fat in processed foods to increase irratibility and aggression. Keep your emotional state on an even keel by reaching for whole, unprocessed foods to abate your hunger.
5. Their labels read like chemistry text books
If you look at the ingredient label on a packaged, processed food, chances are you wont recognize – or even be able to pronounce many of the items on the list. That’s because most of the items are artificial chemicals that have been added to enhance taste, improve texture or extend the shelf life of the product.
Food manufacturers aren’t even required to disclose each chemical added. Instead, they utilize the nebulous ‘artificial flavor’ to mask the proprietary blends of additives. Would you rather eat foods that are more science project than food?
6. They raise your sodium levels sky high
While the human body needs a certain amount of salt to function properly, too much salt increases your sodium levels and can elevate your risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Processed food often contain salt to improve their taste, increase shelf life and add texture – all of which can push your sodium intake past the recommended 2.300mg daily limit. In addition, most salt used in processed food lacks nutritional value and trace minerals provided by better options like the Himalayan sea salt.
7. They can sabotage your sleep
When consumed close to bedtime, processed foods can make getting a good night’s sleep almost impossible. You may find yourself tossing and turning as your body struggles to deal with the sudden spikes and crashes in blood sugar produced from digesting high levels of refined carbohydrates. To keep your insulin levels stable and get a more restful night’s sleep, stick to unprocessed foods for meals and snacks.
8. They are low in nutrients
Processed foods are extremely low in nutrients compared to whole, unprocessed foods. Although synthetic vitamins and minerals are added back in to replace those lost during processing, they are a poor substitute for the original nutrients. Foods made from plants and animals contain beneficial vitamins and minerals, so the more processed foods you eat, the less of these beneficial nutrients you receive.
9. They may prompt overeating
Food manufacturers want their products to have a very long shelf life, be extremely tasty and be very easy to eat. As we mentioned before, this goal is often accomplished by stripping the fiber by these foods so that they are easily processed by the body – some might just melt in your mouth. Since it takes less energy to consume them, and we often don’t feel full when we do, we tend to eat more processed foods in a shorter period of time. This overeating can of course lead to weight gain.
10. They often contain processed oils and Trans fat
To make their foods cheap and shelf stable, manufacturers often turn to refined seed and vegetable oils that are hydrogenated, a process which turns them into trans-fat. These trans-fat are extremely harmful to the body and can lead to a host of adverse effects on your health. Even processed oils that are not hydrogenated should be avoided. These oils contain excessive levels of Omega 6 fatty acids which can increase inflammation and oxidation in the body.