FAQs On Processed Foods
You can find processed foods in any supermarket or cafeteria. We are talking about canned, frozen and subjected to other types of heat treatment products, sweets and semi-finished foods. They eat them every day and don’t even think about whether such food is healthy.
It turns out that eating processed foods in large quantities is extremely harmful because they contain an excess of sugar, salt, refined fats, dyes, preservatives and other harmful components that cannot but affect our body. Today, we will answer the most popular questions about processed foods.
What are processed foods?
Processed foods are those whose composition has been changed before they are consumed: canned fish, meat and vegetables, semi-finished products, frozen foods, street food and fast food, ketchups, mayonnaise, sauces, chips, cookies, sweets, confectionery, meat products (sausages, boiled pork, bacon), packaged juices, soda, etc.
How are foods classified by level of processing?
In accordance with the current world definitions, all foods are divided into four main groups:
- Untreated or minimally processed food. This group includes unprocessed or natural food, including food that has undergone basic processing, such as slicing, freezing, chopping, etc.;
- Basic food components (main products) are usually added to the products of the first group. Examples are foods that can be found in any kitchen and which contain oil (olive, sunflower, canola, etc.), sugar (white or brown), salt and spices;
- Products consisting only of unprocessed foods with the addition of basic food components. These are home-made foods made from home-made ingredients found in any supermarket. A more formal definition refers to food consisting only of unprocessed foods with the addition of basic foods: foods cooked with spices (at home, in a restaurant, or at a food company). This group includes most dishes, such as soups (not containing powder), chicken or fish cooked in the oven, couscous, meatballs, boiled or stewed vegetables, etc.;
- Ultra-processed food contains ingredients that are difficult to find in your home kitchen, such as food extracts, as well as industrial and complex additives (creating or improving color, texture, or taste) that affect your eating habits and a natural feeling of satiety. Ultra-processed foods are usually sealed, ready for immediate use anywhere and anytime, or after minimal cooking (adding boiling water, heating in the microwave, etc.)
Why do we mainly eat processed foods?
Dyes, flavors, and odor additives, fat, sugar and salt make us eat in larger quantities than we really need.
The availability and speed of ultra-processed food encourage its use in the form of snacks, and not as part of an orderly meal (for example, granola, sugary drinks, individual instant dishes, instant soups, and others).
Intensive marketing and advertising activities, including engaging opinion leaders, are conducted to encourage the consumption of ultra-processed food products as part of desired or normative behavior.
Besides, in many cases, ultra-processed food is cheaper than fresh food.
What will happen to our health if we regularly consume processed foods?
- Digestion problems. Eating processed foods can negatively affect digestion. Most often, their composition can hardly be called natural, and it is difficult for our stomach to digest all kinds of chemical additives. Any colorants, sweeteners, and substitutes for natural ingredients are toxic to beneficial gut bacteria. A decrease in their number directly affects the general immunity, as well as how quickly and easily food is digested and excreted from the body;
- Excessive tiredness. Obviously, processed foods have almost no healthy and natural vitamins and minerals. Therefore, those whose diet consists mainly of such food lacks many necessary substances. And this, in turn, leads to a decrease in immunity, disruption of the brain and the body as a whole. As a result, a person gets tired faster, more often feels depressed, cannot concentrate even on simple tasks;
- A drop in sugar level. A lot of processed foods are made up of simple carbohydrates that are completely unhealthy for the body. As a result, blood sugar levels can drop significantly. It happens like this: after consuming simple carbohydrates, sugar first grows. To lower its content, the body begins to intensively produce insulin. And an excess of insulin leads to the fact that the sugar level drops below normal. Result: constant weakness and a feeling of hunger;
- You start to overeat. In addition to low sugar levels, preservatives and fats contained in almost every semi-finished product cause constant hunger. These substances affect the brain, causing an imaginary sense of pleasure. It’s not possible to eat too much because each new serving enhances the detrimental effects of sweeteners. As a result, a person develops the habit of constantly eating certain foods in large quantities. And this will soon lead to weight gain and health problems;
- Sleep problems. Simple carbohydrates are harmful because they provoke a sharp release of adrenaline. And this, of course, prevents the body from producing serotonin. Because of this, you cannot relax and tune in to sleep. Therefore, if you often eat processed foods in the evening, you will quickly get your sleep pattern out of balance;
- The risk of mental disorders will increase. Eating lots of sweets during stress is a common habit. But as we wrote earlier, the feeling of pleasure from eating processed foods does not last long. And because of bad eating habits, you can start to worry even more. Now experts are still exploring how processed foods deplete substances necessary for mental health, namely vitamins of group B, Omega-3, magnesium and a number of trace elements. But there is already irrefutable evidence that such food can extremely negatively affect mood;
- Insulin resistance may develop. Fructose in processed foods is also harmful if consumed in excess. Under its influence, the liver is forced to produce more glucose. Again, the body produces insulin and all this eventually becomes the cause of insulin resistance in cells. And this is the first step to obesity and diabetes;
- The risk of getting cancer increases. There is also the opinion that ultra-processed foods can cause cancer. Even the rare use of meat that has been processed (sausages, ham, bacon) increases the risk of colorectal cancer.
So, now you see that processed foods are not beneficial for our health. So even if the label says that the product contains only useful components, do not be lazy to read the composition and make sure of this.
What processed foods can be useful?
- Yogurts, juices, healthy spreads enriched with phytosterols and vitamins;
- Breakfast cereals (granola) enriched with fiber;
- Canned fruits are a great option if fresh fruits are not available;
- Frozen or already sliced vegetables – a way out for busy people who have no time.
Eating fresh or minimally processed foods, including vegetables, fruits, berries, herbs, legumes, nuts, cereals, will help you stay healthy!