What do deli meats, frozen pizzas, granola bars and potato chips have in common? They can make meals and snacking easier! However, they're also all processed foods.
When you make a habit of eating processed foods, they can affect your health in many ways. Learn what these foods are, how they may be dangerous and how you can make healthier meal choices.
What are processed foods?
Processed means a food has changed from its original form in some way before you bought it. Sometimes, the different ways companies process certain foods are what makes them harmful.
For example, cutting an apple off a tree technically falls under processing. This is a type of change known as mechanical processing. It means that a manufacturer has made a food physically easier to eat or cook by doing something like slicing it or removing its skin.
However, foods become harmful when they go through what is called chemical processing. This means manufacturers add ingredients that change what the food is made of. An apple cut off a tree is still the same apple, just easier to eat. But applesauce that's gone through chemical processing can have tons of extra sugar and flavor enhancers. These chemical changes affect how food fuels your body and how you digest it.
What makes processed foods dangerous?
Chemically processed foods often have extra ingredients that aren't good for you. You might think you're eating something healthy because you don't realize those extra ingredients are in it.
Be on the lookout for these common processed food ingredients:
- Added sugar: It might be tasty, but sugar and high-fructose corn syrup don't provide any nutrients for your body. Eating too much sugar is linked to developing conditions like heart disease and even cancer.
- Sodium: Most salt in diets comes from processed food. It can help the food stay edible longer. However, eating too much sodium makes your body hold on to extra water. This can raise your blood pressure and make it harder for your heart to pump.
- Oils: Processed foods often have high fat levels, and not the healthy fats that can help your brain. Instead, these chemically treated oils cause inflammation. This can lead to a variety of illnesses like cancer, depression and Type 2 diabetes.
- Artificial ingredients: These are the items you see on product packaging that are so difficult to pronounce. This is because they're not actual foods. They're chemicals that can change the colors, textures and flavors of foods. Artificial ingredients may contribute to everything from immune system damage to obesity to fertility issues, among other conditions.
Manufacturers design processed foods to taste good. However, by doing this, they remove healthy nutrients and replace them with harmful additives. Fortunately, knowing what to look out for can empower you.
Making healthier choices
Many people turn to processed foods because they're quick and easy to eat. However, it's always a wise idea to eat fresh foods whenever you can.
Use these shopping tips next time you’re at the grocery store:
- Frozen fruits and veggies are usually safe, especially if the fruit or veggie is the only ingredient listed on the package.
- Try not to let more than 20 percent of your daily food intake come from processed, sugary or salty foods.
- Low-sodium canned beans can be healthy. Rinse them in cool water before eating them.
- Always look at nutrition labels. If you can't pronounce an ingredient, skip that food.
Are you ready to start making healthy eating a bigger part of your lifestyle? Check out these tips on planning for healthy eating.