Posted April 27, 2015 by Jenni Go in Eating

How Eating Processed Foods Can Make You Sick (and Fat!)

To become optimally healthy, you should spend at least 90% of your food budget on whole foods, and the remaining 10% on processed foods. But the sad thing is that most of us currently do the opposite, which results in poor health.

When it comes to food, the closer they are to nature, the better. It’s not that there aren’t any processed foods that are healthy. In fact, there’s frozen green beans, grass-fed ground beef, and even almond butter. But in most cases, the term “processed foods” is associated with chemically processed goods that are made from heavily refined and artificial ingredients. These processed foods are the epitome of what you shouldn’t fuel your body with. Simply put, you should avoid them like the plague!

So if you were given the chance to change one thing in your life; and that would be to lower your risk of developing chronic disease while at the same time losing weight and feeling happier and more energized, would you be willing to do it? You can begin by eliminating processed foods in your diet! The research against such foods is hard to ignore or deny, especially with a recent study that highlights processed foods as the culprit behind poor immune system and gut health.

Still in denial? Here’s how eating processed foods can make you sick (not to mention fat!).

Reasons You Should Stop Eating Processed Foods

Processed Foods Are Loaded with Sugar and/or Fructose Corn Syrup

This isn’t just about the “empty calories” that cause you to gain weight. Too much sugar in a person’s diet is often linked to insulin resistance, high triglycerides, and higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and obesity.

Corn syrup is high in refined fructose and is now found in almost every processed food you can think of. Fructose is responsible for causing your body to consume more calories and store fat for longer periods of time. Fructose is metabolized by your liver and it’s the only organ that has the transporter for it. Since your liver shuttles all the fructose you’ve consumed, and, if you eat a typical American diet, you consume substantial amounts of it. High amounts of fructose can damage your liver in the same way alcohol and other toxins do. And, like alcohol, fructose is metabolized into fat so it gets stored in your fat cells, which consequently leads to mitochondrial malfunction, obesity, and other obesity-related diseases.

So the more fructose a processed food contains and the more total fructose you consume, the more harmful it will be to your health. You need to consume only about 25 grams of total fructose per day. For most people, however, the main source of fructose should be from fruits and should be limited to about 15 grams or less because you’re guaranteed to consume “hidden” sources of fructose, especially if you frequently drink beverages besides water, and eat processed foods.

Also, you should keep in mind that added sugar (which is usually in the form of high-fructose corn syrup) is not just limited to junk foods and sweets. In fact, it’s also commonly found in savory processed foods. So make sure to read labels and check the ingredients first before tossing processed foods in your grocery cart!

Processed Foods Won’t Satiate Your Hunger

In short, processed foods are designed to make you eat more than you should!

Your body may be built to regulate the amount of food you eat and the energy you burn but with modern technology, food manufacturers have figured out how to override the body’s intrinsic regulators, manufacturing foods that are “hyper-rewarding”.

Based on the food reward hypothesis of obesity, processed foods stimulate a powerful reward response in your brain; so much so that it’s easy for you to overeat. This is based on one of the guiding principles of manufacturing processed foods, which is known as “sensory-specific satiety”. This refers to the tendency for powerful, distinct flavors to overwhelm your brain and trick you into eating more than you should.

The immense success of processed foods and beverages owe their capability to make consumers “crave for more” to complex formulas that stimulate one’s taste buds just enough without overwhelming them, thus tricking the brain and overriding its inclination to say “enough is enough”.

Among junky snack foods, potato chips rank on top of the list of the most addictive processed foods on the market, as it contains all three crave-inducing ingredients: sugar, salt, and fat.

Processed Foods Are Pumped with Artificial Ingredients

Many processed foods contain dozens of artificial ingredients that are not even considered “real food”. These include artificial coloring and flavors (which, by the way, may include 10 or more chemicals in itself), texturants for adding texture to the food, and of course, preservatives.

Some food manufacturers claim that these food additives are safe, but scientists say otherwise. For instance, preservatives have been linked to various health problems like allergic reactions and even cancer. Then there’s food coloring. Nine of the artificial colors currently approved for use on food in the US are being linked to various health problems, ranging from allergic reactions and hyperactivity, to certain cancers.

Artificial flavors aren’t much better. One compound, diacetyl (which is often used as a butter flavoring in popcorn), has several chemical properties that have been linked to certain neurological problems like Alzheimer’s disease. Some genetically engineered flavor enhancers have also been listed under the artificial flavor label.

Processed Foods Can be Highly Addictive

A lot of people are addicted to junk food. And yes, this was proven, tested, and backed up by science! Processing food modifies or removes nutrients and other important components like fiber and water. This changes the way your body digests and assimilates foods.

Compared to whole foods that are rich in healthy fats, proteins, fiber, carbohydrates and water to satiate hunger, processed foods stimulate dopamine, a feel-good hormone that makes you feel good even when a certain food lacks fiber and nutrients. This artificial stimulation leads to excessive food cravings or overeating and, ultimately, food addiction.

In 2013, a team of scientists found that Oreo cookies are just as addictive as illicit drugs, with Oreos stimulating more neurons in the pleasure centers of rat brains than exposure to cocaine and morphine did.

You better think twice before munching on that cookie!

Processed Foods Are Usually High in Refined Carbs

Breakfast cereals, waffles, bagels, and most other processed foods are refined carbohydrates that easily break down to sugar in your system. As a result, it increases your insulin and leptin levels, causing insulin resistance, which is the primary underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease in the book, including obesity.

The problem is that refined carbohydrates are quickly broken down to sugar in the body, leading to rapid blood sugar and insulin spikes. This leads to carb cravings a few hours later when blood sugar levels drop again. This phenomenon, aptly called the blood sugar roller coaster, is something many people who have been on a high-carb diet can relate to.

Of course, having a diet that’s high in refined carbs will have negative effects on your health, and you will also be predisposed to many chronic diseases. So the next time you visit your local marketplace or grocery store, don’t be fooled by labels like ‘whole grains’ that are often plastered on processed foods, including the ones on breakfast cereals. Yes, they may contain whole grains but they have already been pulverized into very fine flour, which are just as detrimental to one’s health as their refined counterparts.

Processed Foods Are Typically Low in Nutrients

Most processed foods are stripped off of all the real nutrition, then sometimes add back in the form of artificial vitamins and minerals. However, these synthetic nutrients won’t fool your body, because they won’t provide the whole, synergistic nutrition you’d otherwise get from eating whole foods.

What’s more, not even the most advanced laboratory in the world could “add back in” all of those precious phytochemicals and trace nutrients that are mostly present in whole foods. Science hasn’t even begun uncovering all of them! So the best way to ensure your body gets all the nutrients it needs is to eat whole, unprocessed foods. The secret lies in nature!

Most Processed Foods Are Low in Fiber

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the daily recommended fiber intake should be at about 20 to 30 grams. However, most adults don’t even consume half that much. This doesn’t come as a surprise because fiber is primarily found in plant foods. In a largely refined standard Western diet, healthy fibers are often processed right out.

If you don’t include whole fruits and veggies, and nut and seeds in your diet regimen, you’re missing out a LOT of healthful fibers.

Processed Foods Are Packed with Trans Fats and Processed Vegetable Oil

Foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is loaded with synthetic trans fats. This includes chips, crackers, most packaged baked goods, as well as fried foods, just to name a few. Synthetic trans fats can cause inflammation, which is a distinctive symptom of most chronic and/or fatal diseases. In addition, most of these foods contain significant amounts of Omega-6 fats in the form of processed vegetable oil. These are polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) that promote inflammation in the body, and they’re chemically unstable and prone to oxidation. High amounts of oxidized fats in your diet can lead to all sorts of health problems, including heart disease and atherosclerosis (buildup of plaque in the arteries).

Solution to the Problem

It goes without saying that processed foods can be detrimental to your health. But if your diet is mostly composed of these types of food, you’ll wonder what to do about it.

Cutting back on processed foods might seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be that way. The first step is always the most important, and that is to slash off as many processed foods as possible, in favor of whole, unprocessed foods such as organic grass-fed meat, cage-free organic eggs, organic produce, and healthy fats (such as coconut oil), among many others. And for a healthy digestive system, you should feast on fermented foods on a regular basis. These types of food are the best way to have optimal gut health. What’s important is that you eat traditionally made, unpasteurized foods. Take small, “bite-sized” steps: swap out one processed food meal (or snack) with a healthy home-made fermented food.

Fermented vegetables are the ultimate superfood because they supply good, beneficial bacteria back into your digestive system, and, unlike other fermented foods, they taste great. What’s more, they’re an excellent source of Vitamin K2, given that you ferment your own produce using proper starter culture.

Other healthy food choices include yogurt and kefir (fermented organic milk), pickled fermentations of turnips, cabbage, eggplant, cucumbers, squash, carrots, onions, soy, and many more. To top it off, some of the good bacteria found in fermented foods are excellent chelators of pesticide and heavy metals which help reduce toxic load in your body.

If fermented foods are new to you, large portions of it may trigger a healing crisis, which takes place when the probiotics (the good bacteria) kill off pathogens (agents that cause illness or disease) in your system. When these pathogens are eliminated, they release potent toxins that could harm your body. So if you’re new to fermented foods, make sure to introduce them gradually, starting with as little as a teaspoon of kimchi or kefir with a meal. Then, observe your reactions to the new diet for about two days before moving on to another bigger portion. You can then increase your dose slowly as tolerated.

Take note that many of our preferences in food develop early in life – even while we’re still babies – so the sooner you can introduce fermented foods to your young ones, the better. One interesting fact is that traces of the flavors of the foods mothers eat while they are pregnant have been found in breast milk and amniotic fluid. So babies whose mothers eat foods such as kimchi, garlic, and broccoli during pregnancy are more likely to enjoy these foods later in life.

As you reach your goal of replacing one processed food with fermented food, make another goal, like swapping out your snack of crackers or chips in favor of raw veggies and dip. You can also replace soda with a glass of fresh vegetable juice.

As you continue modifying your diet regimen, use your momentum and increased energy to move forward and keep doing your best to stay healthy and fit. Bust an unhealthy habit, one at a time. Soon enough, you’ll be completely free of processed foods, along with all the troubles that could make you sick and fat!

Jenni Go