Chances are all of us eat food that has been processed at some point in time during the day or other. Whether it’s cured meat, frozen treats or pasteurized milk, nearly all kind of food undergo some sort of processing.
However, the term 'processed food' generally points towards foods that are made mostly of industrialised ingredients and additives, with little to no intact whole foods. For example, sodas, cookies, instant noodles and veg or chicken nuggets would be some examples of highly processed food. And that is not all, products that may seem healthy, like breakfast cereals and energy bars too fall under the same category.
In a new study now, scientists from the National Institutes of Health discovered that people consumed an average of 500 extra calories per day when intake mostly processed fares, in comparison to when the same people were fed minimally processed foods.
Furthermore, a separate study in France found that people who consumed more processed foods were more prone to develop heart diseases, while a similar study in Spain discovered that eating more processed foods are tied to a higher risk of death in general.
So how is processed food harmful to the health?
They are loaded with sugar
Processed food is usually loaded with sugar or fructose corn syrup. Added sugars are empty calories and while they provide energy, they have no discernible health benefits. Too much of it can ruin a person's metabolism.
They have no fibre
Chemically altered food is often stripped off the fibre content that leads to quicker digestion. However, the body of the person who has consumed it may feel less satisfied as it does not slow down the absorption of carbohydrates.
Made to be addictive
Processed food like chips are chemically altered to be 'hyper-rewarding', releasing dopamine when consumed. This is one reason people cannot stop eating processed food once they have started.
They cause aggression
Studies have found that the trans-fats in processed foods increase chances of irritability and aggression. A University of California study found that consumption of dietary trans fatty acids (dTFAs) is associated with irritability and aggression.
They increase sodium levels in the body
While the human body needs sodium for bodily functions, too much sodium in the body can elevate the risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases. Processed food usually contains added salt for improved taste and increase shelf life.
It affects sleep
Digesting high levels of refined carbohydrates can cause sudden spikes and crashes in blood sugar, leaving the body unable to sleep. A stable insulin level helps a person sleep.
Low nutrient content
Despite their obvious taste processed foods are low in nutrients. Even though synthetic vitamins and minerals are sometimes added back to replace those lost during processing, they are a poor substitute for original nutrients. They are less beneficial for the body.
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