Most foods we eat are processed in some way. Apples are cut from trees, ground beef has been ground in a machine and butter is the cream that has been separated from the milk and churned.
But there is a difference between mechanical processing and chemical processing.
If it’s a single ingredient food with no added chemicals, then it doesn’t matter if it’s been ground or put into a jar. It’s still real food.
However… foods that have been chemically processed and made solely from refined ingredients and artificial substances are what is generally known as “processed food.”
Processed Foods Are Usually High in Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup
Processed foods are usually loaded with added sugar… or its evil twin, High Fructose Corn Syrup. Sugar is “empty” calories – it has no essential nutrients, but a large amount of energy. Sugar consumption is strongly associated with some of the world’s leading killers… including heart disease (because it leads to increased levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, diabetes (due to insulin resistance), obesity and cancer.
Most people aren’t putting massive amounts of sugar in their coffee or on top of their cereal, they’re getting it from processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages.
Processed Foods Are Often High in Refined Carbohydrates
The carbohydrates found in processed foods are usually refined, “simple” carbohydrates. They act just like sugar and lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. This can lead to carb cravings a few hours later when blood sugar levels go down again. This phenomenon is also called the “blood sugar roller coaster” – which many people who have been on a high-carb diet must have experienced.
Labels like “whole grains” that are often written on processed food packages, including breakfast cereals usually contain whole grains that have been pulverized into very fine flour and are just as harmful as their refined counterparts.
If you’re going to eat carbs, get them from whole, single ingredient foods, not processed junk foods.
Processed foods are “hyper-rewarding” they hijack Your Brain and Makes You Addicted
Unlike whole foods, which contain a mix of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, fiber and water to help you feel satisfied, processed foods stimulate dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, making you feel good even though the food lacks nutrients and fiber. This artificial dopamine stimulation only lasts so long and eventually leads to intense food cravings and, ultimately, food addiction.
If you’ve ever tried to cut back on sugar, you may have realized how incredibly difficult it is. In some cases, it may seem impossible.
When we eat these foods often and in large amounts, the dopamine receptors start to down-regulate. Now there are fewer receptors for the dopamine. This means that the next time we eat these foods, their effect is blunted. We will need more junk food next time we eat in order to get the same level of reward.
Sugar and other junk foods, due to their powerful effect on the reward centers of the brain, function similarly to drugs of abuse like cocaine and nicotine. The exact same brain centers are at play. There is no difference, except the substance of abuse is different and the consequences of relapse aren’t as severe. People who have a certain predisposition to addiction become addicted to these foods and lose control over their consumption.
This is basically how sugar and other junk food “hijack” the brain chemistry to make us crave more and eat more.
Processed Foods Contain All Sorts of Artificial Ingredients
If you look at the ingredients label for a processed, packaged food, chances are that you won’t have a clue what some of the ingredients are. That’s because many of the ingredients in there aren’t actual food… they are artificial chemicals that are added for various purposes.
Example: The label of a canned food or a chocolate bar may look like that:
Ingredients: Amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethole, anisyl formate, benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, butyric acid, cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil, diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl heptanoate, ethyl lactate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate, ethyl Nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl valerbate, heliotropin, hydroxphrenyl-2butanone(10% solution to alcohol), a-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butrate, lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine carbone and solvent3
Looks delicious, doesn't it? And this is just a small sampling of the SIX THOUSAND chemicals used to process foods.
Highly processed foods often contain:
- Preservatives: Chemicals that prevent the food from rotting.
- Colorants: Chemicals that are used to give the food a specific color.
- Flavor: Chemicals that give the food a particular flavor.
- Texturants: Chemicals that give a particular texture.
Processed foods can contain dozens of additional chemicals that aren’t even listed on the label.
For example, “artificial flavor” is a proprietary blend. Manufacturers don’t have to disclose exactly what it means and it is usually a combination of chemicals that are blended in to give a specific flavor.
Most Processed Foods Are Low in Nutrients
Processed foods are extremely low in essential nutrients compared to the whole, unprocessed foods. In some cases, synthetic vitamins and minerals are added to the foods to compensate for what was lost during processing. However, synthetic nutrients are NOT a good replacement for the nutrients found in whole foods.
Also, real foods contain much more than just the standard vitamins and minerals that we’re all familiar with. Real foods… like plants and animals, contain thousands of other trace nutrients that science is just beginning to grasp.
The more you eat of processed foods, the less you will get of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and various trace nutrients.
Processed Foods tend to be Low in Fiber
Soluble, fermentable fiber has various important health benefits, but most processed foods are very low in fiber because it is lost or intentionally removed during processing.
It Requires Less Energy and Time to Digest Processed Foods
Food manufacturers want their processed food products to have a long shelf life. They also want each batch of the product to have a similar consistency and they want their foods to be easily consumed. They are often very easy to chew and swallow. Most of the fiber has been taken out and the ingredients are refined thus we only burn half as many calories digesting and metabolizing processed foods compared to whole foods.
The result is that we can eat more of them in a shorter amount of time (more calories in) and we also burn less energy (fewer calories out) digesting them than we would if they were unprocessed whole foods.
Processed Foods Are Often High in Trans Fats or Processed Vegetable Oils
Processed foods are often high in unhealthy fats. They usually contain cheap fats, refined seed- and vegetable oils (like soybean oil) that are often hydrogenated… which turns them into Trans fats. Hydrogenated (trans) fats are among the nastiest, unhealthiest substances you can put into your body.
Vegetable oils contain excessive amounts of omega-6 fatty acids, which can drive oxidation and inflammation in the body. Several studies show that when people eat more of these oils, they have a significantly increased risk of heart disease, which is the most common cause of death in many countries today.
The best way to avoid trans fats is to avoid processed foods. Eat real fats like butter, coconut oil and olive oil instead.
Here are just a few reasons you might want to think twice before opening a packet of namkeens or chips or buying other canned fruits or meats or going for a burger or cookie:
- CANCER - Some synthetic chemicals used in the processed foods industry are known to have carcinogenic properties. In fact, a seven-year study conducted by the University of Hawaii of almost 200,000 people found that those who ate the most processed meats (hot dogs, bologna) had a 67 percent higher risk of pancreatic cancer than those who ate little or no meat products.
- OBESITY - Heavily processed foods are usually higher in sugar, fat and salt, and lower in nutrients and fiber than the raw foods used to create them. According to the World Health Organization, processed foods are to blame for the spike in obesity levels and chronic disease around the world.
- HEART DISEASE - Many processed foods have trans fatty acids (TFA), the dangerous type of fat you don't want in your diet. TFA's give a rise to LDL, the dangerous cholesterol, and squash HDL, the good one.
So the bottom line is Just Eat Real Food!
When we replace real, traditional foods like butter, meat and vegetables with crappy, processed junk foods, we get fat and sick.
Real food is the key to good health, processed food is not.