When it comes to avoiding unhealthy kinds of food, health experts advise people to stay away from processed foods. Processed foods have been changed from their original form or state through a distinct process or treatment. This can include cooking, canning, drying, fermentation, freezing, pasteurizing, or pressing.
These processing techniques often kill or remove much or all of the good nutritional value. Plus, many have additional ‘ingredients’ that are not good for you. Some processed foods are not considered harmful. The processing may be a healthy transformation or to make the food safer for human consumption. Examples include pasteurized milk and natural yogurt.
Some foods can be highly processed and artificial, with industrial formulations that typically contain five or more ingredients in the form of additives. They attempt to imitate the qualities of whole foods like meat, fruits, or vegetables.
These foods achieve a specific flavor and texture with chemical additives not common in home preparation. Most have artificial colors and flavors, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, hydrolyzed protein, monosodium glutamate, modified starches, sodium nitrite, thickeners, and preservatives. As you may have heard, if you can’t pronounce an ingredient, stay away from it!
List of Processed Foods to Avoid
Highly processed foods have ingredients that have questionable nutritional value. Here are the most common processed foods that you should avoid.
Meats that have been cured, canned, dried, salted, or smoked and contain chemical compounds are much less healthy than cuts of meat from grass-fed animals. Processed examples are cured bacon, canned meat, corned beef, dried meat, beef jerky, hotdogs, ham, luncheon meat, meat-based sauces, salami, sausages, and smoked meat. They have high levels of sodium chloride or table salt, saturated fats, and nitrite as preservatives that can turn into harmful compounds called nitrosamines.
They also contain high amounts of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that cause animal cancer. The prolonged eating of these meat products for years will increase your risk of chronic diseases. These include some cancers, heart disease, and hypertension.
Frozen and Microwavable Meals
Although convenient, quick, and easy to eat, microwave-ready meals or frozen dinners are often full of excess fat, sugar, and salt. These additives can cause heart problems such as high blood pressure or stroke and cause weight gain. Others have lower salt, fat, and caloric content but lack essential nutrients.
Besides the undesirable impact of their ingredients, some plastic containers release hormone-disrupting chemicals into the food when heated.
These are often a typical addition to people’s grocery lists. Although they are popular as a quick meal or snack, instant noodles have little or no nutrients because they are highly processed. The seasonings in the sachet contain various flavor enhancers, such as yeast and monosodium glutamate (MSG).
MSG may cause health problems if consumed in high amounts. It has high carbohydrates, saturated fat, and high salt content that can increase your cardiometabolic risks, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and obesity.
Granola Bars and Cereals
Many cereal bars are often marketed as health foods, but if you look at the ingredient list, you may be shocked to see they have a high fat and sugar content and don’t offer any nutritional value.
Although full of oats, nuts, and seeds, granola bars have about three teaspoons of sugar and refined glucose syrup, or rice syrup, to make them stick together. They won’t keep you full because the added sugars digest quickly and cannot satisfy your hunger pangs for long periods. They contain simple carbohydrates and a long list of questionable ingredients.
Sugary Fruit Snacks
Candied fruits, labeled as healthy snacks for kids, are mostly not natural fruits but contain only a drop of real fruit ingredients. Additionally, they have been sweetened with cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup, which can cause weight gain and diabetes. The excess sugar and gummy ingredients that stick to the teeth can create cavities in otherwise healthy teeth.
Grocery Store Cakes
These cakes are highly processed because they contain artificial trans fats, calories, refined sugar or syrups, and saturated fats. These harmful ingredients can cause chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
These snacks, such as flavored crisps, are unhealthy processed foods because they contain high levels of salt, flavorings, sugar, and fats. They are high in calories but low in nutrition. They also use high amounts of rapeseed and sunflower oils for their cooking. They can build up inflammation in the body and cause health issues if you eat too often.
Margarine is not healthy at all! Yes, it is made with vegetable oil, but it is hydrogenated to make it solid. Its chemical structure is altered, and it becomes trans fat. Trans fats are very unhealthy because they increase your body’s LDL (bad) cholesterol and can lead to type II diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cancer.
Sparkling and Sugary Drinks
Carbonated or soda drinks have no health benefits at all. They are highly processed and contain large amounts of sugar or sugar substitutes such as aspartame, contributing to weight gain and irritability. Drinking either diet or regular sodas can cause certain cancers, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, impaired blood sugar levels, kidney damage, metabolic syndrome, and obesity. Is that enough to stop you from drinking them? It should be!
You may not be able to avoid processed foods from your diet. However, you can check and monitor whatever you eat and ensure you eat less processed foods than whole foods. Include more whole, nutrient-dense foods in your diet, and see how you start to feel! You will probably be jumping out of your skin with more energy and vitality. Prioritize these good foods and avoid the highly processed ones for better health, wellness, and longevity!