Processed foods, such as ready-to-eat foods, pastries and processed meat, can have negative effects on your health.
Most foods require some degree of processing and not all processed foods are harmful to the body.
However, chemically processed foods, also called ultra-processed foods, tend to be rich in sugar, artificial ingredients, refined carbohydrates and trans fats. For this reason, they make a major contribution to obesity and disease worldwide.
In recent decades, the consumption of ultra-processed foods has increased dramatically worldwide. These foods represent now
This article examines how processed foods can affect a person’s health and what should be avoided.
The term “processed food” can be a bit confusing, as most foods are processed in one way or another.
Mechanical processing – such as grinding beef, heating vegetables or pasteurizing food – does not necessarily make food unhealthy. If the processing does not add chemicals or ingredients, it does not tend to decrease the health of the food.
However, there is a difference between mechanical processing and chemical processing.
Chemically processed foods often contain only refined ingredients and artificial substances with low nutritional value. They tend to have the addition of chemical flavoring agents, dyes and sweeteners.
These ultra-processed foods are sometimes called “cosmetic” foods compared to whole foods.
Some examples of ultra-processed foods include:
- frozen or ready meals
- pastries, including pizza, cakes and pastries
- packaged bread
- processed cheese products
- morning cereal
- biscuits and chips
- candy and ice cream
- instant noodles and soups
- reconstituted meat, such as sausages, nuggets, fish fingers and processed ham
- soda and other sweetened beverages
Ultra-processed foods tend to taste good and are often cheap.
However, they usually contain ingredients that could be harmful if consumed in excess, such as saturated fats, added sugar and salt. These foods also contain less dietary fiber and fewer vitamins than whole foods.
The researchers came to this conclusion after considering the intake of saturated fats, sodium, sugar and fiber.
Below, we look at seven reasons why processed foods can increase a person’s health risk.
Processed foods tend to contain added sugar and often fructose-rich corn syrup. Added sugar does not contain essential nutrients, but is high in calories.
Regular consumption of excess sugar can lead to compulsive overeating. It is also linked to health conditions such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and inflammatory diseases.
Processed foods and beverages are among the major sources of added sugar in the diet. Sweetened beverages are a very important source; people tend to consume much more sugar than they realize in soft drinks.
Reducing your sugar intake, for example, by consuming sparkling water instead of soda, is a quick and effective way to make your diet healthier.
The list of ingredients on the back of the processed food packaging is often full of unrecognizable substances. Some are artificial chemicals that the manufacturer has added to make the food tastier.
Highly processed foods often contain the following types of chemicals:
- preservatives, which prevent food from spoiling quickly
- artificial dye
- chemical flavor
- texturing agents
Processed foods can also contain dozens of additional chemicals that are not listed on their labels.
For example, “artificial flavor” is a proprietary blend. Manufacturers do not have to reveal exactly what this means, and it is usually a combination of chemicals.
Official organizations have tested most food additives for safety, although the use of these chemicals
Carbohydrates are an essential component of any diet. However, carbohydrates in whole foods offer far greater health benefits than refined carbohydrates.
The body quickly breaks down refined or simple carbohydrates, which leads to rapid increases in blood sugar and insulin levels. When these levels drop, a person may experience low appetite and energy.
Because refined carbohydrates cause frequent increases and decreases in blood sugar, their consumption is linked to a
Highly processed foods are often rich in refined carbohydrates.
Healthy sources of carbohydrates include:
- whole grains
- beans and legumes
Ultra-processed foods have a very low content of essential nutrients compared to whole or minimally processed foods.
In some cases, manufacturers add synthetic vitamins and minerals to replace nutrients lost during processing. However, whole foods provide additional healthy compounds that ultra-processed foods do not provide.
Fruits, vegetables and grains, for example, contain
The best way to get the full range of essential nutrients is to eat whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods.
Dietary fiber has a wide range of health benefits.
Fiber can slow down the absorption of carbohydrates and help people feel less satisfied with fewer calories. It also acts as a prebiotic, feeding friendly bacteria in the gut and can help improve heart health.
Most ultra-processed foods have a very low fiber content because natural fibers are lost during processing.
High-fiber healthy foods include:
- nuts and seeds
- whole grains
The way the producers process the food makes it very easy to chew and swallow.
Because much of the fiber is lost during processing, it takes less energy to eat and digest ultra-processed foods than whole or less processed foods.
As a result, it is easier to eat more of these products in shorter periods. By doing so, a person consumes more calories – and uses less in digestion – than he would have eaten whole foods instead.
This increases a person’s chances of consuming more calories than they consume, which can lead to unintentional weight gain.
Ultra-processed foods are often high in unhealthy and cheap fats. For example, they often contain refined seed or vegetable oils that are easy to use, inexpensive, and long-lasting.
Manufacturers create artificial trans fats by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils, making them more solid.
Trans fats increase inflammation in the body. It also increases the levels of low-density lipoproteins or “bad” cholesterol and lowers the levels of high-density lipoproteins or “good” cholesterol.
Consumption of trans fats is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
The best way to avoid refined oils and trans fats is to avoid processed foods. A person can replace them with healthy alternatives such as coconut oil or olive oil.
In recent decades, ultra-processed foods have become commonplace in diets around the world. However, consuming large amounts of these foods increases the health risks.
To rebalance or make your diet healthier, a person can replace ultra-processed foods with whole foods, including grains, nuts, seeds, lean meats, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.