Have you ever wondered how some pre-packaged, canned, or frozen food can simply sit on the shelf for days and weeks without deteriorating? That’s because to get to this shelf-ready state, food manufacturers have pushed natural foods through a series of processes. So what we end up eating most of the time are not wholesome fresh foods, but unhealthy, chemically altered processed foods. Which bring us to another key question: What are processed foods, and why are they so bad for you?
Processed foods are natural food products that have been modified from their original state. What this essentially means is that man-made chemicals and other compounds have been added to the natural food product to make it last longer and taste better. Through extensive research, experts have identified several man-made ingredients in processed foods that contribute to poor health. This list is an important one, so make a note of it and carry it with you when you go shopping! What you can do is check the nutritional labels on the products that you normally buy. If you spot any of these ingredients, try to find a healthier substitute to the product.
Trans-fat can be described as oils that are infused with hydrogen. Not all food labels will mention ‘trans-fat’ explicitly. Some food manufacturers use the word ‘hydrogenated’ instead, but it essentially means the same thing. Eating trans-fat, according to health experts, is equivalent to exposing your internal system to plastic. It disrupts internal communication between the body’s cells, causes weight gain, leads to hormonal fluctuations, and increases the risk of contracting stroke, diabetes, obesity, cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and infertility.
High Fructose Corn Syrup:
Food manufacturers claim that high fructose corn syrup is a direct derivative of sugar and hence nutritionally almost the same, but that is far from the truth. According to experts, high fructose corn syrup does not behave like sugar when it is broken down in the body. Sugar is immediately used by the body to generate energy, but high fructose corn syrup is transformed into fat. There’s more to this ingredient than just fat build-up. It leaves your body craving for more because it does not provide the sensation of being ‘full’. Long-term consumption of high fructose corn syrup increases susceptibility to obesity and diabetes.
Look out for food labels that mention other harmful artificial sweeteners such as dextrose, lactose and maltose.
Popularly referred to as MSG, this artificial ingredient is used by food manufacturers for additional flavor. Health experts continue to emphasize that MSG leads to weight gain, recurring headaches, and severe migraines. The catch with spotting MSG is that it is often disguised under alternate names such as hydrolyzed protein, yeast extract, and soy protein isolate. In fact, any ingredient that contains the words ‘hydrolyzed’ or ‘autolyzed’ should set off warning bells.
How Can I Avoid Processed Foods?
This is a legitimate concern, after all processed foods are literally everywhere. Our diets are full of food products that have gone through various levels of processing. While it will be challenging to eliminate all the sources of processed food from your diet all at once, there are ways to cut down on your intake:
Steer Clear of Packaged Foods
Foods that are available in pre-packaged cans, bags or boxes, have usually gone through at least one type of refinement process. They have been bleached, dehydrated, enriched with additional sugars and salts, or topped with additional fats. These foods have been stripped off their natural nutritional content, and do not benefit your body with nutrients or minerals.
Steer Clear of White Foods Products
To put it simply, white foods are products that were not white in color in their natural state, but were given an artificial white color after processing. This includes common food items such as white breads, white pasta, white rice and most baked goods. During the process of refinement, these products are essentially deprived off all their natural goodness. To make up for this loss food manufacturers add artificial ingredients such as trans-fat, salt and sugar. So most of what you eat in your regular diet is chock full of artificial components that do not benefit your body in any way.
Steer Clear of Lengthy or Unclear Food Labels
Food products that have excessive ingredients mentioned on the nutritional label have, most often than not, been heavily processed and refined. Scan the label before buying the product and if it seems like it contains too many chemical ingredients, refrain from buying it. Labels that are written in a foreign language, sound vague or confusing, or present incomplete information about the food, should be avoided for a healthier substitute.
One Step Closer to a Healthier You!
While you cannot completely eliminate processed foods from your diet all at once, you can make intelligent food choices for a healthier diet. With this knowledge in hand, you are a well-informed consumer who knows what to avoid when buying packaged food products. Making the right food choices now will protect you from a plethora of diseases and health concerns in the long run. So don’t wait, let’s take a step towards healthy living today!