From cooking to fermenting to grinding and chopping whole ingredients, humans have always processed our food. Traditional processing makes foods easier to eat, digest, and preserve. Any food not in its raw, natural state has technically been processed. However, with the increasing use of industrialized processing methods to make convenience foods, the term “processed food” has gradually come to mean something very different. In fact, one could question whether it refers to actual food at all.
What are Processed Foods?
• Modern processed foods are manufactured for convenience and long shelf life. They’re often designed to overstimulate our taste, brains, and bodies with sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, and chemical additives.
• One good working definition of “processed food” is food that has been manufactured or chemically altered through additives such as flavors, flavor enhancers, binders, colors, fillers, preservatives, stabilizers, emulsifiers, etc.
• Generally speaking, if the ingredients aren’t natural, or have been changed so drastically from their natural state that they are no longer nutritious, then one can consider a food highly processed.
• Industrial processing often depends upon refined sugar, white flour, processed and hydrogenated oils, synthetic food additives and vitamins, and the extrusion of grains.
• More simply, if it comes in a box, bag, can, or jar, and has a list of ingredients on the label, it’s been processed to some degree. Fast food, junk food, microwave dinners and other pre-packaged convenience foods are most likely highly processed.
• About 85% of food found in grocery stores in processed.
• About 90% of the money an average American spends on food goes to buy processed food.
Why Avoid Processed Foods?
• According to the World Health Organization, processed foods play a major role in the sharp rise in obesity seen across the world, which has been getting progressively worse since the mid-20th Century. Every culture that makes the transition from native, whole foods and traditionally processed foods to prepackaged and fast foods gets fatter.
• Hand in hand with obesity, processed food consumption correlates with a rise in chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. High in refined sugars and grains, unhealthy fats, and salt, manufactured foods have a disastrous effect on metabolic health.
• Studies have shown that people with diets emphasizing processed foods have a higher risk of developing certain cancers. There are several possible reasons for this higher risk, including several known carcinogenic substances that are introduced or created during industrial processing.
• The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a list of thousands of chemicals that are added to processed foods. These compounds are intended to add color, stabilize, enhance texture, preserve, and more. Some of them have never been tested for safety, but are classified “generally recognized as safe”. This, however, doesn’t mean that they support a healthy body. Many people have adverse reactions or eventual health problems after ingesting them. Among the worst chemical additives in processed foods are monosodium glutamate (MSG), trans fats, artificial sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, chemical food dyes, and sodium nitrite/nitrate.
Eating Real Food…
• The best way to avoid processed food begins with breaking the common but mistaken conception that processed food is real food. Packed with chemicals, lacking enzymes, and stripped of nutrients, it may fill you up, but does it do anything else that food is supposed to do?
• Real food starts not in a box or carton, but with whole food in its natural state. Whole foods contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, enzymes, and other healthy nutrients and micronutrients, which are often removed when foods are processed by industrial methods.
• Eating whole foods means rejecting convenience food and investing some time in the kitchen. Whole food often requires longer preparation times than processed, prepackaged meals.
• In grocery stores, whole foods are mainly found at the perimeter, along the sides and back rather than the middle aisles. Whole foods can also be found at farmers markets, local farms, and at fresh fruit and vegetable stands. Whole foods are grown or raised rather than manufactured.
• If you choose to buy food in boxes, bags, cans, or cartons, read the ingredients lists and make sure you can recognize everything on it as food, not chemicals.
1. Dirty Secrets of the Food Processing Industry http://www.westonaprice.org/modern-foods/dirty-secrets-of-the-food-processing-industry
2. How Do Your Define “Processed Food”? http://health.amuchbetterway.com/how-do-you-define-processed-food/
3. All the Health Risks of Processed Food http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/05/10/19/all-the-health-risks-of-processed-foods—-in-just-a-few-quick-convenient-bites.htm
4. Top 10 Food Additives to Avoid http://www.foodmatters.tv/articles-1/top-10-food-additives-to-avoid
5. The Benefits of Healthy Whole Foods http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/the-benefits-of-healthy-whole-foods