You may read about the dangers of processed food. But when you walk into a typical supermarket, you find that all foods seem to be processed to some degree. How, then, do you decide what's bad and what's good for your body? First off, let's start with the definition of processed food:
"Food processing is any deliberate change in a food that occurs before it’s available for us to eat. It can be as simple as freezing or drying food to preserve nutrients and freshness, or as complex as formulating a frozen meal with the right balance of nutrients and ingredients."
What many don't realise, however, is the difference between mechanical and chemical processing. Mechanical processing usually refers to non-chemical means for transforming raw ingredients into the final product. Examples include fruits/vegetables which are chopped, frozen, and packed or nuts that are shelled and packed. Foods that are chemically processed may have added ingredients, such as sweeteners, spices, oils, flavors, colors, and preservatives. The original ingredients are fundamentally altered to form a final product, making such foods distinct from 'natural' foods.
Even then, chemically processed foods include a broad mix of products, ranging from enhanced products like fortified soy milk, to foods laced with artificial flavouring and colouring - think Cheetos & co. The latter group is what the mass media usually refers to as 'processed food'. Since I was a child, I had always been a fan. Luncheon meat and hotdogs were my comfort foods, because they were simply delicious. But things changed after I entered the field of nutrition. I started to look at these foods very differently, and began avoiding these tasty, addictive, and quick fixes. In the long run, the health complications these highly processed foods can cause are astounding.
Now that we've laid down the definition of processed food, here are 3 reasons why you shouldn't be choosing them:
1) Once You Start, It's Hard To Stop
Highly chemically processed foods are largely optimised for taste, making you crave even more. And the biggest contributors? Yup, you guessed it - sugar, salt, fat, and various other flavourings. High sugar consumption is highly associated with major health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Artificial flavorings are toxic in large amounts, and confuse your body about how full you really are.
2) Empty Calories Abound
Processed food are usually low in nutritional value as compared to whole foods. With convenience and cost in mind, the most nutritious ingredients are usually not used. For instance, breads and biscuits on shelves are often made with refined grains. These grains have been processed to remove the bran and germ, which contain essential nutrients like B vitamins, iron and fiber.
3) Potential Health Complications
Processed food can cause serious health problems. Many synthetic chemicals found in processed food are known to have carcinogenic properties, meaning that they are potentially cancer-causing. According to the WHO, even eating 50g of processed meat every day increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.