Processed Foods - There’s a reason they call it JUNK food!
If you still are unsure of the differences between the "mechanical processing" and "chemical processing" of foods, or if you have any confusion as to the detrimental health effects of ultra processed foods, you owe it to yourself to learn more about this crucially important topic.
Mechanical Processing - Examples of this would be fruit cut from trees; meat, ground in a machine before packaging; butter, having been separated from milk and churned, etc. Single ingredient, real foods with no added chemicals, ground or put into a jar, are considered mechanically processed.
Chemical Processing - This would include foods that are chemically processed, made solely from refined ingredients and artificial substances. Think of it this way: if it isn't from a bush, tree, plant, vine, or the earth, it is chemically processed.
Ultra Processing - This is the worst case scenario, but, sadly, the most common food on the shelves. Ultra processed foods are at the very far end of the processing spectrum. These are the "foods" (and we use that term lightly) that are significantly altered. Examples would be foods like chips, crackers, soda, cereals, breakfast bars, baking mixes (cake, brownies, cookies), frozen dinners, packaged snacks (cookies, snack cakes, etc.,) instant soups, etc.
When food labels include ingredients not typically involved in cooking, this is a sure sign of processed foods. In addition to sugar, salt, oils and fats, these foods may include things like artificial coloring, artificial flavoring, artificial sweeteners, and more. These chemicals are added in order to create a food with the qualities of unprocessed, or minimally processed foods.
As Laura Korman, DC, DACBN, points out, "the reason these chemicals are added to these foods is that, without them, these foods would be of a color, texture and taste that would be totally unpalatable and undesirable to anyone, because these products are NOT real food!" Dr. Korman continues, “Keep in mind that ultra processed foods have so many chemicals and preservatives that they rarely even rot! They have a very extended shelf life BECAUSE they are NOT REAL food!
Why should we care whether the food is real or not? As long as it is palatable, does it really matter? YES! It matters greatly! For so many reasons...for health reasons...it matters greatly.
Below is a list of some of the concerns associated with eating processed, especially ultra processed, foods. Some of these concerns mandate an article of their own, but this will serve as an overview of the broader issues surrounding the health hazards of processed foods.
The Health Hazards Of Consuming Processed and Ultra Processed Foods
Most often these products have excessive amounts of sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup, both of which are seriously harmful to brain health, body health, metabolism, insulin resistance, triglycerides count, cholesterol, fat accumulation in the liver and abdominal cavity, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer.
The man-made, chemically-driven, satisfying sensory experience of these foods results in extreme overconsumption and addictions. We are encouraged to eat until we often become sick.
Being unfamiliar with the ingredient lists on these foods keeps us totally in the dark about chemicals, additives and the like. We see the picture on the wrapper, shrug off the uninterpretable list of ingredients, and just dive right in. We are taking the "poison pill" and embracing the opportunity to do so, as we remain ignorant as to what we are actually putting into our bodies.
We are consuming chemicals that keep food from rotting; that give food its color; that give food its flavor; and that give food its texture. If we could see these products in their natural state, we would, most likely, turn up our noses and be mortified that this is called "food."
These products often contain dozens of chemicals
not required to even appear on its label.
These foods are literally addictive, as we battle obesity in our country.
These foods activate the brain just as other drugs of abuse, such as cocaine. In lab tests, rats actually PREFERRED sugar water to cocaine water, and gravitated to it repeatedly. Insightful?
These foods are very high in carbohydrates, and are quickly broken down in the digestive tract, leading to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels.
These foods are extremely low in essential nutrients
These processed foods are very low in the fiber that our bodies require. Soluble, fermentable fiber, functions as a probiotic, to feed the friendly bacteria in the intestine. Fiber also slows the absorption of carbohydrates to help us feel more satisfied with fewer calories. It also treats constipation. Processed foods are very low in fiber because they are so often removed during processing.
We burn only half as many calories digesting and metabolizing processed foods compared to whole foods.
Processed foods are often high in the unhealthy fats. Unhealthy fats are the cheap fats like refined seed and vegetable oils (soybean oil, for example) which are often hydrogenated. Hydrogenation turns the fats into trans fats, the most unhealthy substance you can put into your body. Vegetable oils are very unhealthy and, when consumed, increase the risk of heart disease, the most common death in Western countries today (it kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it?)
"Knowledge is power." "Know better, do better." There is a reason for these sayings. You may feel fine today or even next year, but as we learn more about how to take care of the one and only body we will ever have, wouldn't it be great if we could own what we learn and put better habits into practice?
Aging is tough enough without working against ourselves!
Countries of the world who have adopted the foods of the western world have experienced high incidents of disease like they have never known before. We are a country full of sickness and medication, followed by sickness and medication. One must question, at some point, why this is such a problem in our country. We must find a way to save ourselves, because the makers and shakers of ultra processed food on the grocery store shelves are clearly unconcerned about our health or the health of our children.
There seems to be such an irony in the occasion of Halloween traditions. Back in the 60's, the concern from our "trick or treat" bags was that there would be no razor blades in the apples. Then, it was straight pins in the salt water taffy. Today, there are many cautions with our children and the "trick or treating" experience, but it is so ironic that the most consistent "trick" is that almost every piece of "treat" in that bag, if you look at the label, proudly announces that this food item is loaded with chemicals of which we have no idea, with consequences that can be quite serious. Yet, we accept this as normal fare, and never miss a step. Yikes!
Next time you reach for the chips (“betcha can't eat just one!"), the cookies or your cereal, make it a habit to at LEAST read the ingredient list, just to assure yourself that you now know better and are at least aware of what choices you are making for your health.