Processed foods have long been linked to health conditions like obesity, high blood pressure and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Research shows that some processed foods may double your chances of developing colon cancer. Still, many Americans keep processed foods as a staple in their daily diets. In the United States, we eat more packaged foods per person than any other country.
Processed food is an umbrella term to describe any nourishment that was altered prior to consumption. Thus, anything cooked, canned, packaged or preserved is considered processed. Minimally processed foods include bagged lettuce or pre-cut veggies. Although less processed, frozen fruit and canned tuna aren’t the freshest options. Jarred sauces and salad dressings may be prepared with relatively fresh or organic ingredients, but are still considered processed. Deli meats, granola, crackers and frozen pizza can be moderate-to-heavily processed, depending on the food brand and the ingredients used.
Consider the following reasons processed foods aren’t the best food choice for your everyday diet:
Vanity weight gain aside, hidden sugars and foods filled with high fructose corn syrup can cause you to become insulin resistant, boost triglyceride levels and increase your risk of heart disease. Many processed foods contain refined fructose, or corn syrups, that metabolize directly into fat.When it comes to your oral health, heavy sugar consumption causes decay, cavities, weakened enamel and tooth loss. Unexpected foods, like spaghetti sauce, can also contain added sugars. Don’t assume just because you aren’t eating dessert that you’re curbing your sugar intake. Even organic and reduced-fat foods contain added sugars, so check your nutrition labels while grocery shopping to remain cognizant of what you put in your body.
Canned vegetables and soups are notorious for their high sodium content. Food makers add salt to help preserve and extend shelf life, but the daily recommendation is under 2,300 milligrams per day. Use fresh veggies when possible to get the most nutrients with the least number of salty additives. Try making your own soup with homemade chicken broth, your favorite veggies and a crockpot.
Because prepackaged foods need to last enough time to reach your kitchen from the manufacturing center, they are filled with numerous preservatives, chemicals, artificial colors and flavors. Some of these “ingredients” are linked to allergic reactions, Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. Avoid any and all artificial ingredients when possible.
On the upside, some processing is beneficial when added nutrients are involved. For instance, some milks and juices pack an extra punch of calcium and/or vitamins, while crackers and cereals might include extra fiber for digestive health. Again, keeping an eye on nutrition labels and ingredients will ultimately decide what you should and shouldn’t consume.