Real Vs. Processed Foods: Why Are Processed Foods Bad?
Sixty-Five percent of Americans say they won’t make New Year’s resolutions for 2021. In place of resolutions, people are claiming New Year’s intentions. What’s your intention for 2021?
Many will begin a weight loss journey with exercise and diet routines at the start of the New Year. How do you ensure your new diet intention is effective?
You’ve heard eating whole foods is important. Maybe you’ve also read that healthy eating habits involved cutting processed food. Have you wondered, “Why are processed foods bad?”
Let’s take a closer look at the differences between real vs processed foods.
What Are Real Foods?
The term real food refers to foods that only have one ingredient. Foods such as an apple, a carrot, or snap peas from the pod are real foods.
Examples of real food include:
- Corn on the cob
- Green Beans
Nothing has been added or removed from real foods. They are consumed in the same form they’ve left the earth, tree, or animal. Real food has not been changed in its makeup by process or person.
Simply putting salt on real food doesn’t change its makeup. However, making french fries from a potato changes it from real to processed.
What Are Processed Foods?
Processed foods have been altered from their original form or created in a lab. If the nutritional composition of a food is changed in any way, it can be classified as processed.
Examples of some processed foods include:
- Potato chips
- French fries
- Boca burgers
- Chicken nuggets
- Hot dogs
- Fruit juice from concentrate
- Ice cream
- Candy such as jelly beans, gummy bears, or candy bars
- Milkshakes or malts
- Milk (sold in grocery stores)
- Canned vegetables
- Canned fruit
If you recognize these as pantry favorites in your house, don’t panic. Keep reading to discover more about processed foods.
Why Are Processed Foods Bad?
Not all processed foods are bad. Many processed foods, such as store-bought milk and some cheeses, are fortified with calcium. The changes in their nutritional content are made for positive reasons.
When milk and cheese are processed, they undergo pasteurization. Pasteurization is a process that removes bacteria from dairy using heat. Pasteurization doesn’t add or remove nutritional content.
Many manufacturers add vitamins or fortify milk with calcium. In this case, processed does not equal unhealthy.
Calcium and Vitamin D are lacking in the common American diet. Having extra Vitamins and Minerals in dairy products is a great way to ensure your family is getting enough.
Why Do We Have Processed Food?
If processed foods are so bad for us, why do we have them available? This is a great question.
It’s More Convenient
One of the biggest reasons for processing foods is convenience. It’s much easier to throw a ready-made meal in the microwave than to make one from scratch. Hungry kids don’t want to wait for that meal, but chicken nuggets are fast and easy!
By adding preservatives to foods, companies are able to offer faster solutions for mealtimes and snacks.
It Lasts Longer
Food that’s been processed is able to be canned, frozen, or preserved with chemical components. This makes the shelf life longer.
It’s much more efficient for food industry giants to mass-produce food that can sit on a shelf a long time without spoiling. Canned food will stay safe to eat for months, sometimes years!
Consumers are a big fan of this, too. It’s easier to buy a giant bag of processed chicken nuggets at Costco that lasts 6 months. If you prepare unprocessed chicken, it only keeps in the fridge for a few days.
It Looks Nicer
Let’s face it, food that looks funny isn’t very appealing. In order to make food look more uniform, it’s often processed in some way. By processing food, makers are able to manipulate things like shape and color.
Consumers like the food they eat to have a uniform shape, color, or size. People are aware no more than ever how their food looks. With the explosion of things like food photography and food pictures on social media, people care what their food looks like as well.
Real foods don’t always look pretty because they’ve come out of the earth. If you’ve ever picked carrots or green beans from a garden, you can attest to this fact.
Visually unappealing real foods might be great for our bodies, but they’re bad for marketing!
It Sometimes Tastes Better
Many food manufacturers and food scientists make a living off of making real foods taste better. This is most often achieved by adding ingredients like flour, sugar, food dyes, and synthetic flavors.
For example, fruit snacks may advertise they’re organic. Great! take a look at the ingredients list. If the words artificial flavors appear, the food has been processed to enhance or change its taste.
Many people prefer the taste of processed food because their palate is used to it. Keep reading to understand more about sugar cravings.
To Make It Lowfat
Many real foods are high in fat or calories. This isn’t a bad thing! Our body needs healthy fats found in natural foods.
However, many people counting calories want as many low-fat/low-calorie options as they can get. In order to make food more appealing, companies and manufacturers change their makeup to decrease the amount of fat. Because of this, they advertised foods are “low in fat!” or “a low-fat food”.
What they aren’t advertising is the process necessary to achieve these claims. Removing natural fats from foods often requires replacing them with sugars, trans-fats, or other chemicals. The result is a “low fat” food that is high in sugar and other synthetic substances.
Health Benefits of Real vs Processed Foods
Science is very clear about one thing: eating real food is good for human health. Adults and children alike can enjoy the health benefits of eating a real food diet.
Real foods are nutrient-rich. Eating real food allows our bodies to draw the nutrients they need. Thus, we get the benefits and nutrition we need without additives, chemicals, and things we don’t.
A real food diet limits unhealthy food options. There are no such things as nonprocessed donuts or 100% real oreo cookies.
Exactly how does a real food diet vs a processed food diet affect our health?
Real foods don’t contain added sugars. Consuming too much added sugar in your diet can lead to a host of health issues, such as:
- Liver disease
- Increased cholesterol
- Excessive weight gain
- Increased blood pressure
- Chronic inflammation
- Type 2 diabetes
Real foods like milk and fruits contain natural sugar, which is not harmful to our bodies. How can you tell real sugars from added or processed sugars? Just read the food label!
Here’s a list of common added sugars found in our food.
- Raw sugar
- High fructose corn syrup
- Brown sugar
- Corn sweetener
Every food product in the U.S. must list the amount of sugar on their nutrition facts label. However, it can be tricky to determine if the sugars are natural or added.
Labels list ingredients from most to least. If you find added sugars towards the beginning of the ingredient list, it means there’s quite a bit added.
When people are used to consuming added sugars on a regular basis, their bodies start to crave them. This can create an unhealthy cycle of too much added sugar in your diet, which could be detrimental to your health.
No Artificial Food Dyes
Real foods don’t have added dyes to make them look a certain way. Artificial food dyes are very common in the U.S. Many parents and health providers are sounding the alarm on added food dyes.
Some parents and healthcare providers attribute behavioral changes in children to the consumption of added food dye. Some note increased hyperactivity and irritability after consumption of artificial food dyes.
Since 90% of food marketed towards children contains artificial food dye, it’s difficult to avoid. Extracting juices from the following foods is a great alternative to artificial food dye.
- Red or pink food coloring: beets, raspberries, or pomegranates
- Blue or purple food coloring: red cabbage, blueberries, or red grapes
- Green food coloring: spinach, wheatgrass, parsley
- Yellow or orange food coloring: mangoes, saffron, carrot juice
If you don’t have time or resources to make your own food dye, you can buy foods with natural dyes/coloring. You’ll have the best luck in a natural or organic section of the grocery store. Most natural food stores contain many naturally dyed foods as well.
Good Carbs vs Bad Carbs
Our bodies need carbohydrates. Cutting all carbs long-term can lead to serious health problems, such as an increased risk of heart attack and cancer.
Like sugar, not all carbohydrates are the same. Carbohydrates, or carbs, are organic compounds made up of hydrogen and carbon. The body works to break down carbs it consumes in food and converts the carbs into energy.
Processed foods tend to have higher volumes of refined carbohydrates. These refined, or simple, carbohydrates are broken down quickly by the body. The result is a short spike in energy, followed by an increase in hunger and a sudden decrease in energy.
Complex carbohydrates found in real food sustain the body for much longer. This is because they don’t break down as easily. As a result, the body is able to reap the benefits of simple carb energy over a longer period of time.
Complex carbs include:
- Whole grains such as barley, oats, rye
- Whole wheat
Complex carbs provide the body with sustained energy and less frequent hunger cravings.
Processed food contains additives; real food does not. Not all food additives are bad; however, many are. Here’s a closer look at common food additives in the average American diet.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is added to foods to enhance flavor and maintain a longer shelf life. When consumed in moderation, it’s usually harmful. However, some individuals have an intolerance or sensitivity to MSG.
If you experience adverse side effects from MSG, it should be avoided.
Sodium Nitrite or Nitrites are found in most processed meats such as deli meat, bacon, and hot dogs. Too much sodium nitrite intake has been linked to certain types of cancer.
To get protein without sodium nitrite, try less processed meats such as fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, or pork.
Artificial sweeteners are popular in foods that advertise “no added sugar” or “sugar-free”. While this is technically true, many artificial sweeteners carry more problems than added sugars they replace.
Aspartame, a popular artificial sweetener, can cause headaches in some individuals.
Where’s The Fiber?
Processed foods contain little to no fiber. When real foods are processed, dietary is often removed in the process.
Dietary fiber slows the body’s absorption of carbohydrates. This results in less frequent hunger spells.
To find real food rich in dietary fiber, look for the following foods:
- Whole Grains
Dietary fiber aids in digestion, which increases overall gut health and leads to less bloating.
Good Fat vs Trans Fat
Real foods contain a naturally occurring amount of fat. Some real foods high in good fats are whole eggs, olive oil, and Chia seeds.
The human body can break down real fat, or good fat, and use it for energy.
Processed food, however, contains trans fat. It’s less expensive to use refined vegetable oils or other trans fats to preserve foods.
Trans fat, however, can be harmful to the human body. Trans fat increases inflammation, lowers “good cholesterol” and increases “bad cholesterol”. Excessive consumption of trans fat has been linked to heart disease and stroke.
Look for olive or avocado oils in place of refined vegetable oils. A great way to avoid trans fat is to avoid processed food.
Keep It Real
Now you have an answer to the question, “Why are processed foods bad?”. When making a New Year intention or resolution, eating real food may be a great place to start.
Avoiding processed foods altogether may not be an option. Choose real foods when possible, and enjoy processed foods in moderation.