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Fitness Nutrition Forums

What Do Processed Foods Do to Our Bodies?

You know should avoid eating processed foods, but which are the worst offenders and what can they do to your body?

While debates continue over the best piece of nutritional advice to follow, one rule almost everyone can agree on is to eat fewer processed foods. These dietary staples are linked to a variety of health conditions that can cause chronic diseases and ultimately shorten your life. Since foods can run the gamut from unprocessed to ultra-processed, it’s important to know how to identify and avoid the most harmful types.

What are Processed Foods?

Processed foods are mechanically or chemically altered to make them more shelf-stable, convenient, and addicting to consumers. Some foods, such as bagged spinach and pre-cut green beans, are considered minimally processed because they are similar to how they would be found in nature. Ultra-processed foods, on the other hand, are chemically altered and usually have a long list of ingredients. They can be full of sweeteners and additives such as preservatives and artificial flavor. Ultra-processed foods include crackers, candy, meats like hot dogs and bacon, and ready-to-eat meals.

According to an alarming study of American diets, chemically processed foods account for more than half of the calories consumed on a daily basis while unprocessed or minimally processed foods represent less than a third of the total. A Western diet containing an abundance of heavily processed foods has more sugar, saturated fat, and carbohydrates than protein, essential vitamins, and calcium. Even choosing fortified processed foods cannot provide the same nutrition as you receive from natural foods because your body does not process the added nutrients as effectively.

How Do Chemically Processed Foods Affect Your Body?

Ultra-processed foods are usually loaded with artificial ingredients such as refined sugars and trans fats which can lead to a host of serious health issues. Refined sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup, are converted to fat in the body and can increase your risk of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, and cancer. Trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated oils raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol levels, raising your chances of developing heart disease. Consuming processed foods can even affect your sleep patterns. Eating sweet foods at night can cause a surge of adrenaline which prevents serotonin from inducing a restful night’s sleep.

Avoiding heavily processed foods may be a difficult task but there are some steps you can take to limit your intake. When you go grocery shopping, try to select foods near the perimeter of the store where the vegetables, fruit, dairy, and meat are usually located. You could also try growing fruits and vegetables and cooking meals at home to ensure your family eats more unprocessed and minimally processed foods.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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