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What are Processed Foods and Why Should You Avoid Them?

by | Mar 7, 2019 | Nutrition

woman shopping for processed foods

Whether you follow a specific diet, or just try to eat as healthy as possible, it’s likely one of your main goals is to consume fresh foods as opposed to those that are processed. Food that has been changed from its original form before you consume it is considered to be a processed food. While not all foods that are processed are bad, there are many that are, and we should steer clear off or keep them very limited.

So, what makes particular processed foods unhealthy?

Extra Calories

When people talk about how processed foods are unhealthy, they’re usually referring to items that are significantly modified and contain long lists of ingredients that provide no nutritional value. Things like packaged snack food, frozen meals, sugar-laden drinks, and processed meats such as sausage are some examples of what can be considered unhealthy processed foods. These processed foods are engineered to taste good and make us want to eat more of them (they almost always contain sugar). Our genetic makeup makes us gravitate toward foods that are salty, sweet, and fatty in order to have enough calories to survive. But our nutritional needs are much different than our ancestors in that most of us are no longer hunters or gatherers and food is in abundant supply. By consuming too many processed foods, you’re getting extra calories that you simply don’t need. Many people ask, “why are processed foods unhealthy?” and this is one of the top reasons = Extra Calories! 

Artificial Ingredients and Preservatives

Another thing that makes processed foods unhealthy is the fact that they contain artificial ingredients and preservatives. If you read the label on a standard processed food package, you’ll see that there’s a plethora of ingredients listed – many of which you probably don’t even recognize and can’t pronounce! Processed foods are packed with preservatives and other chemicals that make them stay fresh for long periods of time and taste yummy. Your body doesn’t need and doesn’t benefit from these added ingredients. Studies have shown that many of these preservatives and chemicals can possibly be harmful to your body over time.

The best course of action is to focus on consuming fresh foods that don’t come in packages with long lists of ingredients. Picking up a bag of spinach is perfectly fine but leave that spinach and gouda quiche in the freezer! The best way to consume that quiche is to buy the ingredients and cook it at home. To maintain health, your diet should mainly consist of fresh vegetables, lean protein, and foods that are minimally processed before they hit your plate. Everyone indulges in processed food here and there, and that’s fine, but don’t let these be a staple in your diet. A good rule of thumb while at the grocery store is to stay away from the aisles for the majority of your food – stick to the outer limits of the store where the fresh food is.

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