Processed foods are overloaded with hydrogenated oil, high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and trans fats. Low in nutrients, processed foods' main ingredients are nutrient empty sugar, water, fat, flour, starch, artificial colorings and flavors. A diet based on processed food can lead to major illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and other ailments.
Processed food is food that has been treated or has had preservatives added to it to increase shelf life. Even the early civilizations used to preserve food, but they used natural preservatives. Processed food as we know it now did not exist until 1903, when the process of hydrogenation was invented.
 Why should I be aware of this?
Contrary to popular belief processed food do not just include fast foods such as burgers but sodas, cereals, cookies, crackers, puddings, cakes, soft drinks, and other concoctions. Anything which is tinned, canned, frozen, dehydrated, and refrigerated falls under this category. When food is unprocessed it contains all its nutrients in this raw state. But when it gets altered from its natural state through different methods, be it canning, freezing, refrigeration, dehydration and aseptic processing, many of its essential nutrients are eliminated. Most of the food in the European and American cabinets is processed.
 Processed food and health
Medical practitioners and nutritionists have done enough studies to prove that we are what we eat. These studies show that what we put in our bodies on a daily basis does affect the overall quality of life and our immune system. Even simple reactions such as heartburn, migraines, lactose intolerance could have a deeper meaning behind them. Eating a diet high in processed foods can lead to diabetes, and liver overload.
- Studies have shown that a number of diseases such as chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome and acid stomach are because of the chemical intake.
- Some of the many additives and preservatives in processed foods are known to affect the body's basic structure and function and are also suggested to be related to the rise of skin, pulmonary and psycho-behavioral conditions.
- In the flour refinement process, except for the carbohydrates, most of the nutrients are removed. According to a recent study, about 66% of the B vitamins, 70% of all minerals, 79% of the fiber and about 19% of the protein get removed. Though most manufacturers say the wheat is fortified, it is still a poor substitute for natural wheat.
- When manufacturers refine sugar, they also remove important nutrients such as chromium, manganese, cobalt, copper, zinc and magnesium from it and the human body has to actually use its own mineral reserves to even digest it, thus making it, in reality, more toxic for the body
- Refined carbohydrates are also toxic to the body, as they are empty of proteins, good fats, vitamins and minerals. Whole wheat is considered as not harmful but if it is processed and refined to make white flour it becomes pure starch. Some examples include polished white rice, and all things made with white flour such as pasta, bread, biscuits and commercial cookies etc.
- Recent research on artificial sweeteners, produced to help people with weight problems, show that they cause cancer in rats.
- Studies have shown that food dyes have had adverse affects on lab animals and are believed by numerous medical professionals to cause Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and other forms of hyperactivity especially in children. It has also been linked to asthma, and inflammatory skin conditions such as urticaria.
- New research is showing that someone who has a lifestyle that is dependent on too much processed food, could have fatty liver disease. This disease, which was once found only in adults, has now started showing up in young kids because of the increase in processed food. Fatty liver disease is now showing up in approximately one in every three obese children.
 Processed food and the environment
Processed food is wrapped in several layers of plastic, cardboard, and/or foil. The plastic lands in wastebins or drains and finds its way either into the landfill or waterways. It is not biodegradable in most cases and stays for a long time in the landfill. In the sea, it ends as a feed for aquatic animals and birds and leads to their early deaths. The cardboards or the foil is made from non renewable resource.
Processed food are manufactured at one place and transported to the rest of the country, thereby adding to carbon footprint. These foods are consumed in the place of locally grown produce, thus adding to their food miles.
 All about processed food
The attractive end food product that you see has a whole list of ingredients added to give the perfect look, feel and taste.
- Color- To make it look fresh, appetizing and attractive.
- Stabilize - This ensures that the gravy that you have after so many days of being prepared is not watery.
- Emulsify - To give it a uniform look and feel to the food.
- Bleach - This is done to disinfect and avoid unpleasant smells.
- Texturize - This ensures the crunchy taste of the cereal, cookie and crackers.
- Soften - The right consistency and softness also require chemical additives.
- Preserve - To give it a longer shelf life.
- Sweeten - Sugar is sweet but saccharin and aspartame is sweeter.
- Hide odours - Hide odours such as the smell of fish paste in the instant Pad Thai.
- Flavour - The artificial flavours adds to the attractiveness of the food.
Your taste buds become used to the strong flavors of processed foods and make you want to add more salt or sugar to the natural flavors of whole foods. Some processed foods are filled with indistinguishable parts and pieces, like snouts, ears and esophagi (yum!). To make up for the loss of nutrients during processing, synthetic vitamins and minerals are added to "enhance" their nutritional content. Some of the artificial ingredients used include monosodium glutamate (MSG), flavors, preservatives, hydrogenated oil, fillers, and artificial sweeteners.
 Unhealthy processed food
Some of the processed foods that are absolutely not healthy include:
- All kinds of canned food where sodium is added.
- White breads and pastas made of refined white flour.
- Packaged snack foods, like chips and cheese snacks.
- Frozen and ready to eat dinners.
- Packaged cakes and cookie.
- Sugary breakfast cereals.
- Processed meats.
the source of preservatives and additives. Though some may be of plant origin and so vegetarian, a lot many of them are derived from various parts of animals and so are strictly non vegetarian. But this information is rarely passed on to the consumers.
Omega-3 milk and heat-treated tomato juice are also good examples of processed foods being better for humans than unprocessed and natural.
 Types of preservatives
There are many kinds of Preservatives –
- Antimicrobials, which prevent the growth of yeasts, molds and bacteria. For example sodium nitrate in sausage and ham or sulphur dioxide in wine and beer
- Antioxidants, which prevent food items from changing colour or getting black spots, like tocopherols in fat for cakes, ascorbyl palmitate in margarine. And sometimes both kinds are also used in the same food product.
There are other kinds as well like -
- Thickening and Stabilizing agents which are added to give a certain consistency and texture to food such as pectin in jam, locust bean gum in ice cream to prevent formation of ice crystals.
- Emulsifiers that are used to manufacture foods containing fats and water such as lecithin in chocolates, lactic acid esters of mono and digycerides in many bakery products.
- Flavouring agents are used in soft drinks, ice creams and sauces.
And Colours that are added as extras to both impart colour to food or compensate for lost colour due to processing. Such as caramel colour in soft drinks, carotenes in cheese and margarine.
Even to replace sugar in low calorie foods, one adds sweeteners that fall under the preservative range.
 What can I do about it?
 Safer Alternatives
Some of the safer alternatives to artificial preservatives are:
White sugar – One can use powdered barley malt sweetner which is beneficial of diabetics and hypoglycemic patients. Or Sucanut, made from evaporated can sugar and retains more vitamins and minerals. One can definitely use honey or maple syrup also as both contain essential vitamins and minerals.
Refined Carbohydrates - Have more of whole grains such as oat meal, whole-wheat bread, and brown rice.
Hydrogenated Oils - Substitute it with healthy unsaturated fats which include olive, canola, soy, corn, sunflower, peanut, and other vegetable oils.
 Facts to remember
- One must read food labels carefully before buying.
- Never assume that because one is paying more or is buying a product from a health food store, that it is natural or free from preservatives.
- Develop a healthy eating habit. Eat only as much as you need. And ensure that families eat as one.
- Avoid bad eating habits such as eating in front of the TV, snacking in between meals, eating junk food etc.
- Eat whole foods or organic food
- Always pick foods labeled "low sodium" or "reduced sodium."
- Do not add salt to your food. Instead, use herbs and spices to flavor foods.
 Did You Know
- There are nearly six thousand chemicals and additives in our food.
- About 90 percent of the money that Americans spend on food is used to buy processed items
- Many processed foods are stripped bare, rendering them of little or no nutritional value.
- Junk food – high in fat and sugar – is one of the leading causes for the soaring number of cases of type 2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and tooth decay.
- Cravings for processed foods are initiated by eating processed food.
- Natural flavoring” can be just about anything, from the cells of yeast extract and nucleic acid from cell chromosomes, to waste bi-products from cattle.
- The protective wax on produce such as cucumbers, peppers, and apples may trigger allergies, and can contain pesticides, fungicide sprays, or animal byproducts.
- Natural News.com
- Processed Vs Whole Food
- Consequences of the American Processed Foods Diet