What is ‘processed food’?
Processed food can be defined in different ways, in general the term “processed food” means food that has been altered from its natural state. Technically with that definition you can classify home cooked food as processed as well simply because you changed the raw state of the potatoes in your meal once you baked them. However this is not what we mean when we say “processed food” on this blog and when many other food experts mention it. The term “processed food” stands for all foods that have undergone industrial processing to create the packaged products we see in the supermarket. Foods that have been changed significantly from their natural state with the use of very modern technology and chemicals to create a convenient ready to eat product that can endure the supermarket shelf life.
The transition of food to being an industrial product has created a fundamental problem for us, there are many different reasons why processed food is bad for you but let’s try and discuss at least the main concerns with it.
Processed food is a money making machine
First, most of the processed food created is not food in its conventional meaning. Food is our source of energy and nutrition, without it we can’t survive. However not all of the modern foods are created for that purpose. They are created to allure you, excite you and addict you to become a consumer of their product. The food companies’ goal, just like any other company, is to make more money. The way they do it is by designing products with a perfected taste with the help of people that have been hired to serve the role of guinea pigs. Yes, they hire groups of people to eat different versions of their products, while their brains are being monitored. The tests aim to identify which version of the product has the best combination of fat, salt and sugar and triggers the strongest reaction in people’s brains or as the food engineers call it – “the bliss point”. The bliss point is what is going to make you a lifetime consumer of their product because your brain will be craving the bliss point just like a drug. The truth is that the major food companies don’t give a c**p about your health, as long as it passes the food regulations and standards, they are happy to sell anything that is going to make money, and we are talking about a lot of money.
*Source: ‘Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us’ by Michael Moss
We are all victims of their marketing strategies
Obviously no one actually believes that KitKat bars and junk foods like McDonalds are good for them (I hope) but the problem is we have equally bad foods in the supermarket and we fill our fridges and cupboards with them on a daily basis. Food packages that have been designed to last for months on the shelves can’t possibly be natural, even if it says so on the box.
Most people are constantly switching from one diet to another, trying to lose weight, eating “low calorie” and “fat free” products that are actually helping them gain weight instead of the opposite. The confusion that “low calorie” and “fat free” products are healthy is result of years of genius marketing campaigns by the food giants that are more than deceitful and sometimes pure lies. These recommendations are made by health and food institutions as well simply because the food giants fund most of their researches. Some health associations still haven’t “updated” their dietary advices which are still based on researches that were done 15 or even more years ago which have been proven wrong after. Read more about WHY YOU NEED TO STOP COUNTING CALORIES.
Cereals that are very high in sugar and are full of artificial colourings, preservatives and other processed carbohydrates are not good for your children’s breakfast even if they are marketed as “High in Vitamin D” for example. Juices that are claimed to be “natural” just because they contain a bit of fruit juice are not healthy because they have tons of added sugar. Processed food is full of empty calories that provide you with no real nutrition. If you are not getting the right nutrition, not only you may not have the desired weight but you might also face skin, hair and other health problems.The fat-free sweetened yogurt with aspartame and sugar isn’t going to help you with these problems unfortunately. What you eat determines how you look and how you feel!
Why is processed food making modern society fat?
People are gaining weight most often because they are constantly in the processed food cycle. Food that doesn’t provide you with the needed nutrition might make you feel full but soon you will be hungry again because your body will be asking for nutrients. People eat regularly empty in calories foods such as croissants, sugary store-bought bars, triangle sandwiches made with white or brown, refined soft bread and many other similar foods. The more refined the food, the more immediate the pleasure is from it for our body, which is why we like them. People avoid any high-fat foods and count calories not realising that calories don’t matter if they don’t provide any nutritional value. The body is constantly hungry for nutritional whole foods but its overfed with processed food.
I believe there are two types of people that are victims of the processed food. The first type are people that just enjoy life simply without caring about what they eat and are happy this way, they don’t watch calories or how healthy food is as long as it’s tasty. Their food is high in calories but low in nutrition.
The other group are the relatively health-conscious people that are trying to eat healthier but are misled by false marketing campaigns and and are often on a diet. They think that choosing fat-free products is doing them a favour and low-fat meals are a must. Their food is low in calories but still often low in nutrition if it’s mainly consisted of processed food. They might not be gaining as much weight as the first group but they are not losing any permanently.
Sugar has the biggest role in this cycle. Sugar is in everything, not just in sweet products. Food producers have secretly been adding it to all sorts of products and they keep increasing it because it causes the strongest addiction and this addiction will be for life. The other problem is that sugar exists in so many different forms on the ingredients list, it’s hidden behind ingredients like corn syrup, glucose, dextrose and so, so many more. Not only that but our body converts a lot of the food we consume in sugar, the refined starch that we find in foods like bread or pizza is converted to sugar in our system. The excess sugar in our body is converted by the liver into fatty acids, yep FAT, and this fat is stored in our “favourite” areas like the hips, butt and stomach. So it doesn’t matter if the yogurt is fat-free if it’s high in sugar.
Children develop the taste for salt at the age of around 5 months, however the taste and desire for sweetness seems to be developed from the moment they are born. Children nowadays have a much higher sweetness tolerance than the children 50 years ago simply because they are fed with very high sugary foods most of the time. This is a huge problem because they start to develop a very high level of sweetness that they adjust to and will seek in their food for the rest of their life.
Not only are processed foods not providing you with the right nutrition but they can even be harmful in the long run. Nobody actually knows what is the impact of the toxic ingredients used in our food. In our bodies there can be found residue of different chemicals which built up in time. The rate with which some health conditions like diabetes rise is shocking and it can all be related in some way to our food. Here is what Walter Willett, the chair of the department of nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health says about processed food which I believe sums it up brilliantly:
“First, the actual processing has stripped away the nutritional value of food. Most of the grains have been converted to starches. We have sugar in concentrated form, and many of the fats have been concentrated and then, worst of all, hydrogenated, which creates trans-fatty acids with adverse affects on health”.
Make a change
Don’t be a victim of the food giants and become a smart consumer. Start today and make a change to your life, all the information you need is here. Begin by reading what healthy eating really means and what are the three steps to achieve it (step 1 is reading this very long post to understand what processed food is so yay you are already one step ahead!). We need to be realistic as well, quitting processed food completely simply might not be easy because of our busy modern lifestyle but with a bit of effort anything is possible. Even if you can’t quit completely, avoiding it as much as possible is still going to greatly benefit your health!