Raise your hand if you’ve seen or heard avoid processed foods as much as possible from any one in the nutrition profession?
Hello everybody! I hope you’ve had a great start to the week. I’ll bet you every single one of you raised your hand to that question. If you’ve read through enough of my posts you’ll have seen it quite a few times. So I thought today I’d devote a little time to explaining what processed foods are and what you should watch out for!
In reality, “processed food” has been around since prehistoric times. When the definition of processed food is altering real food in any way (making it a rather loose definition don’t you think?), this opens to a wide array as far as what could be considered processed food. For example:
- Roasting meat that began 1.8 million years ago
- Making bread from wheat that began 30,000 years ago
- The formation of beer from grains that began in 7,000 BC
- Fermenting wine from grapes
- Creating cheese from milk
This article from Scientific American continues on about the the history of processed food. But this type of “processed food” isn’t what I’m concerned about. We process our food simply by cooking it, but sometimes that makes it more easily digestible so we can actually get the nutrients for our bodies. What I’m more concerned about is the addition of artificial ingredients, chemicals made in labs, colorings, preservatives extending the shelf lives of these packaged fast foods to far beyond what even looks like something from nature. It’s these type of processed foods that I’m going to focus on. So, for the purposes of this post I define processed food as: any food that has been created in the lab that cannot be created at home.
Processed food = long list of unrecognizable ingredients
- Tons of additives and preservatives (ie: chemicals that make products shelf-stable so they won’t spoil, added coloring agents – think of the distinct color of pop (aka soda), that caramel-y brown color is courtesy of a coloring agent, added flavoring agents, basically all the chemicals you can’t even pronounce or recognize unless you were a food chemist)
- Salt, sugar, salt, sugar! Did you know that the majority of our sodium intake isn’t from table salt? It really stems from consuming high amounts of processed food because sodium is a big additive in the food industry as both a way to add flavor and preserve food. Check out those food packages kids, how many mg of sodium is in that? Sugar is also the #1 additive by weight in the US. Scary, isn’t it? You may not even realize how much sugar you’re consuming on a daily basis, particularly from your beverages. Sugar’s sneaky, and while I believe indulging is necessary every now and again, sugar popping up in processed foods from breakfast cereals to flavored yogurts is deceptive. Especially for our young ones.
Processed food = bad for you because it’s undeniably making you sick
- Those additives and preservatives are not natural things your body knows how to digest efficiently. Your body thrives off of real food, not chemical laden copycats. Consuming all those weird chemicals is preventing your body from functioning at it’s best.
- Salt and sugar can cause serious health issues like high blood pressure and diabetes. The best way to reduce your risk of developing chronic diseases like these is to cut back on your intake of processed foods
How to Avoid Processed Food
1. Where are they found?
- When you go grocery shopping I give you my best piece of advice in this situation: stick to the outer edges of your store. Seriously. All the real foods can be found by skimming the outer edges. Not to mention its usually the produce section that you bump into first when you enter your supermarket. There is a reason! Typically all of your heavily processed foods can be found in the middle of the store on the shelves. Remember, they’ve been tampered with to extend their shelf-lives because the food industry knows how to make a buck basically.
2. Looking at your ingredients lists – the longer and more complicated it seems, the more likely the food has been processed to an unhealthy level. Stay away!
3. Knowing exactly what you’re ordering at restaurants and asking how an item is prepped. Sometimes chefs will add salt continuously throughout the cooking process instead of just waiting to do so at the end. This way you can be aware of exactly what’s going into your body.
4. Pick a real food approach and cook things yourself! This way you know exactly how your food’s being prepared and what’s going into it.
I hope this has clarified the whole idea of processed food into something more tangible. And, I hope its given you a reason to want to avoid it as much as possible!
Question of the week: what’s one thing you can do to limit the amount of processed food in your daily eats?