Half of the food items that are found in the kitchens of our modern homes are processed foods. Additionally, these are also known as convenience foods. Although these can be prepared easily, there are some drawbacks associated with these food items. A major contributor to the obesity epidemic and the rising percentage of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes is processed foods.
Can be processed food be harmful?
The processing methods such as pasteurization, cooking and drying inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria. Processing also includes preserving the texture of foods, delaying spoilage of foods as well as preserving the qualities of the food. On the level of processing, many nutrients are destroyed or removed. Reheating or drying out the foods can destroy certain minerals and vitamins. An overly-processed food might have a very high ratio of calories to nutrients that are considered to be not healthy for the body. Some of the processed foods that you consume are-
- Canned goods
- Cheese spreads or slices
Ways How Processed Foods Affect Your Health
Foods are ‘processed’ majorly to increase their shelf-life. You can check the label to know more about the additives and to identify whether the food item is ‘processed’. Read along to know how processed food can affect your health in 6 major ways.
Processed foods are loaded with added sugar or fructose corn syrup. Sugar has no essential nutrients but only calories. Excessive consumption of sugar contributes to obesity, which leads to a plethora of other chronic illnesses. The label on some of the food items uses words other than the ‘sugar’ to fool the consumers. You might have seen words such as corn syrup, fructose, glucose, sucrose, malt or maltose, honey, molasses or nectar.
These ‘empty calories’ including hidden has no nutritional value. In turn, this encourages the body to consume more calories. This leads to a vicious cycle of consuming sugar more and more.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, consumption of added sugar should be limited to only 10 percent of added sugar.
This is defined as a condition in which several risk factors that can lead to several heart diseases and type 2 diabetes are grouped under one category. For instance, shooting up of the blood glucose level that needs insulin to metabolize. The risk factors that contribute to this syndrome are-
- Increased waistline with additional weight on the stomach
- High level of triglycerides
- Low healthy cholesterol levels
- Elevated blood pressure
- High level of fasting blood glucose
Sugar, which is a form of carbohydrates, is the fuel that drives the body. The number of sugars found in processed foods is very high. This is the primary factor that contributes to metabolic syndrome. When you consume these processed foods in large quantities, not all of them are used for the production of energy. The extra calories get stored in the body as fat.
The collective effects of the above risk factors mentioned above increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
A chemical additive, emulsifiers, is used in every processed food products- bread, peanut butter, cake mixes, salad dressings, sauces, yogurt, processed cheese, ice cream, and desserts. This additive is mixed with the food to increase their shelf life and texture of foods. You will be surprised to know that emulsifiers are also used in household soaps or detergents. So imagine the consequences when you consume a chemical that is used in detergents. There is a direct impact on the digestive system. The most common disease that develops is inflammatory bowel disease- Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. This occurs as the mucus that protects the intestinal lining from other microbes is affected by bacteria. This causes the tract to inflame. (Also Read: IBS vs. IBD- Know The Difference )
Seven additives have been identified- glucose, salt, emulsifiers, organic solvents, gluten, microbial transglutaminase, and nanoparticles- are commonly used in processed food products which can lead to an autoimmune disease. These additives damage the tight junctions between epithelial cells (special cells that protect the intestinal tract). This destroys the defense barrier the body puts up against harmful toxins, bacteria, and other harmful antigens. This increases the chances of autoimmune diseases.
Processed meats that have been chemically treated to preserve can increase the risk of colon cancer. The risk increases more when you consume red meat. The preservatives used to process meat are assumed to be exposed to carcinogenic compounds. Research shows that if you consume 50 grams of processed meat on a daily basis, the risk of colorectal cancer increases by 18 percent.
Anxiety and Depression
Although this is a mental condition, it is still a health risk you should consider. The additives commonly used in processed foods adversely affect the serotonin levels in the body. Serotonin is a compound produced in the gut that stabilizes your mood. All those extra sugar from processed foods increases insulin production which sets the body in a hyperactive mode followed by extreme lethargy. As these processed foods are addictive in nature, you crave more and more for them. Hence, an endless loop develops.
To conclude, consuming a diet that majorly includes processed food makes the body deficient of various vitamins and minerals which are essential to maintain mental and physical health. Also, it is almost next to impossible to avoid processed foods completely but it is better to keep an eye on how much you are consuming. This alertness will help you lead a healthier lifestyle and prevent some serious ailments in the future.