Let’s start with the not-so-hidden dangerous of processed foods, yeah? THEY AREN’T REAL FOOD. Need we continue? Haha. For real though, let’s think about it for a minute.
- An apple comes from an apple tree
- A chicken breast from a chicken
- A potato grows in the ground
- An oreo comes from…..? A factory? No bueno.
Studies have linked consumption of processed foods to obesity as well as various health conditions including heart disease, cancer, ADHD and arthritis. Very few people would probably argue that processed foods are good for you yet these non-food items make up the majority of most Americans’ diets. Get THIS crazy statistic: $0.90 of every food dollar in this country is spent on processed foods. No wonder we’re overweight, tired and sick!!
If you’re looking for lasting fat loss, processed foods have got to go. Here’s what we know: because many crucial nutrients like fiber and healthy fats have been stripped from processed foods, they are easier for your body to digest. That’s not a good thing when it comes to fat loss. What it means is that they spike your blood sugar faster and it plummets almost as quickly. Your body spends less time and energy metabolizing these frankenfoods. This is why you can eat a bag of potato chips and never feel full or scarf down a huge bowl of cereal and be hungry just an hour later. It feels very different to eat a steak or an omelet.
Additionally, because these foods are easier for your body to digest, that means you burn fewer calories during the digestive processed compared to a whole-foods meal. I don’t know about you, but if I’m going to enjoy a nice meal, I’d love to burn off as much of it as possible during the digestive process!
It’s important to also realize that the companies producing processed foods are out for one thing: your money. They want you to crave their food. These companies spend millions of dollars on food and behavioral scientists whose job it is to identify just how to make you crave their food and not be able to stop eating it. They’ve identified combinations of flavors and textures that trigger the reward center in your brain, making their processed food item as addictive as a drug. That’s not an exaggeration, guys. Check out the conclusion from a recent study on Oreos:
“…Oreos activated significantly more neurons than cocaine or morphine. ‘This correlated well with our behavioral results and lends support to the hypothesis that high-fat/ high sugar foods can be thought of as addictive”
The goal of many of these food scientists is to capitalize on what is called “vanishing calorie density” – the way foods with very few nutrients but lots of flavor and texture melt in your mouth and require little effort to digest trigger your brain to think you aren’t really eating any calories. You just keep eating, and eating, and eating….
From a fat loss standpoint, processed foods are your worst nightmare. From a health standpoint, they don’t look much better!
Processed foods, in general, are packed with added sugar, salt and unhealthy fats to improve mouth feel, flavor and extend shelf life. If you made a homemade cookie from minimally processed ingredients, could you put it in your pantry for a year and go back and eat it? Uh, no. Foods aren’t meant to have long shelf lives yet processed foods will often look (and taste!) the same after sitting on a store shelf for years. Here’s what I think: if a food has a long shelf life, it’s probably borrowing from YOURS.
Stripped of nutrients like fiber and omega 3s, these foods have little to no nutritive value. They are certainly nutritionally inferior to whole foods like vegetables, fruits and protein. However, they’re covered with marketing “health” claims! These food companies graffiti the packaging with confusing and often misleading claims like “a great source of fiber!” or “sugar free” or “an excellent source of whole grains”. To a consumer who doesn’t understand the risks of processed foods, they might be tricked into thinking they’re making a healthy choice.
Then there are the ingredients themselves – man-made chemicals, artificial colors and flavors that at the very best are questionable with regard to their impact on our health. Studies have been done on many of the common ingredients found in processed foods and the results are frightening. I’m not an alarmist and I think everything stated above is reason enough to avoid these things, but I do want to draw your attention to a few concerning ingredients and urge you to look at the labels before you buy your next boxed or bagged food-creation.
- Phosphates – used in high concentrations as a preservative or to enhance mouth feel. Studies have linked phosphates to a number of serious health concerns
- Acrylamide – found in potato chips and French fries, this dangerous chemical is considered a potential carcinogen
- BHA (butylated hydroxyamisole) – used as a preservative, this also has been linked to cancer
- Artificial colors – chances are you’ve heard a lot about risks associated with certain artificial colorants and there really is no question that if you’re looking for optimal health – especially for your children – these need to be avoided. For a good overview of the risks associated with artificial colorants, check out this document.
I could go on for days about all the research that has been done but it boils down to a very simple point: our bodies were created to process real food. These man-made frankenfoods are nutritionally inferior to whole foods, they encourage us to overeat and they may in fact be a significant detriment to our health. Keep it clean – eat whole foods.