And by this I don’t mean mechanical processing (say by cutting an apple off a tree) but chemical processing. If it’s a single ingredient food with no added chemicals, then often it doesn’t matter if it’s been ground or put into a jar for ease of use as it’s still real food. I say ‘often’ as sometimes something as simple as pre-washed salad is not what it seams (chlorine washing anyone?!)However what we usually refer to as processed foods are those that are chemically processed and made solely from refined ingredients and artificial substances. Why are these so bad for us I hear you cry when they can often make our lives so much easier?
Firstly, these processes result in the diminished nutrient density of our food. Through the excessive heating and cooling processes, which are required in order to give processed foods extended shelf lives, vital nutrients are greatly diminished. Blanching vegetables before they are packaged leads to the loss of water soluble vitamins like vitamin B. When we mill grains for bread we lose the outer husk-the most nutrient dense part. So if you’re eating mainly processed foods, then you’re getting lots of empty calories – calories that come with few or no nutrients that your body needs.
Secondly, In order to reintroduce flavor that gets removed through processing, food manufactures often will add a variety of chemical and colourings to increase shelf life, visual appeal and flovour. These include carcinogenic trans-fats (also know as “hydrogenated fats”) which are used to turn liquid foods into solid procuts and commondly found in margarine, or biscuits, or nitrates-added to meat to give it a pink colour and to prevent bacteria growth, but also have been found to be carcinogenic when the nitrites form nitrosamines in our body???
Other food coloring agents, such as the Yellow No. 5 found in Dorritos or the Red No. 40 found in Fruit Loops, have been associated with numerous side effects and the only benefit these agents serve is to make food look more appealing. And who wants to eat ammonium hydroxide (the same chemical found in many cleaning products) which is commonly added to processed meat.
Finally, processed food often contains high levels of sodium and excess sugar- both added to enhance the flavour lost form all this processing- both which can both hinder our health and wellbeing. And doesn’t it seem silly to eat a box of ceral touted with ‘added vitamins and minerals’ that have been artificially added to replace those natural vitamins taken out during processing- most which do not have a similar bioavailablity than wholefoods- ie our body can’t properly use.
And last but not least is the impact of processed foods to our environment. Processed foods use up more energy and create more waste than their wholefood counterparts due to excess packaging, food miles and unused by products. So those oh so appealing convenient foods not only personally cost your health and back pocket more, but their impact on our environment is threefold- and to me, that’s simply unacceptable.