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Health and Fitness News

Processing the Why

Six reasons why highly processed foods are bad for you.

It seems almost all food on grocery store shelves have been processed in some way. This makes shopping difficult, as you often hear that you should eat fewer processed foods and more whole foods. But are all processed foods bad for you, and how bad are they?

A food is considered processed if it has been altered in some way from its original form. This may mean something as minimal as being chopped, cut, canned, frozen, dried, pasteurized, or baked. In these cases, little to no nutritional value is lost. On the other hand, many processed foods may have added ingredients for taste, appearance, or preservation or they’ve been refined and processed to the point of lost nutrition. The more processed and the more additives a food has, the more unhealthy it becomes. Unfortunately, there are likely a lot of ultra processed foods that make it into your grocery cart each week. Here are six reasons to take those foods off your grocery list.

Reason 1: Added Sugar

Highly processed foods often contain added sugar, which may improve the taste but doesn’t offer any health benefits. Quite the contrary. Added sugar is associated with weight gain, type 2 diabetes, inflammation, high blood pressure, and fatty liver disease. For optimal health, men should consume no more than 37 grams and women no more than 25 grams of added sugar a day.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to overdo it. A single 12-ounce can of soda contains 39 grams! Be vigilant, because added sugar goes by many names on ingredient labels.

Reason 2: Sodium

Many processed foods contain unhealthy amounts of sodium for taste and preservation. You may enjoy the flavor, but a diet high in sodium can lead to high blood pressure, kidney disease, kidney stones, stroke, heart failure, headaches, and osteoporosis. Though adults should consume fewer than 1,500 mg of sodium a day, the average adult consumes more than twice this much every day, largely due to processed foods. Baked goods, processed cheese, pizza, chips, and canned soups are particularly high in sodium.

Reason 3: Saturated Fat

Too much saturated fat puts you at risk for weight gain and heart disease. Baked goods, processed meats, fried foods, high-fat dairy products, and solid fats are high in saturated fat. Limit saturated fat to no more than 22 grams a day, and those don’t stretch very far. Eat a cheeseburger and you’ll down 10 grams, and a tablespoon of butter has 7 grams.

Reason 4: Lack Nutritional Value

The more processed a food is, the fewer nutrients it contains. Many foods are now fortified with vitamins, minerals, and fiber to make up for the processing process which strips foods of their natural nutrients. Think: cereals and breads made of refined, white grains. Without fortification, they would be devoid of nutrition.

Reason 5: High in Calories

Ultra-processed foods are typically high in calories. Combine high-calorie, nutrient-deficient foods, and you’ve got a recipe for weight gain. Fast food is the most obvious example of ultra-processed, high-calorie food that contributes to weight gain. Pizza, hamburgers, French fries, milk shakes, and soda all provide little nutritional value and way too many calories.

Reason 6: Artificial Ingredients

High amounts of additives are often added to ultra-processed foods. These preservatives, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, and artificial flavors are chemicals made in a lab, not real food. Many of the common additives found in the foods you eat may actually be banned in other countries for their health risks. Additives are associated with hormonal imbalances, weight gain, ADHD, and cancer, so avoid foods with unknown or hard-to-pronounce ingredients.


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