Could it be telling you to watch out when buying food?

Most packaged foods today have been “processed” in one form or another. Even “natural” foods can be treated with additives or preservatives. The words “organic” can also mean different things. You may not always be able to tell by reading the label. Often even things such as salt, sugar, oils and fats which we may find in our foods are added or enhanced.

Adding or altering these things is designed to make foods last longer, look more pleasing to the eye or simply enhance the taste. That doesn’t sound bad does it? The level of processing is dictated by the desired end result, and can even be used to make the food somewhat addictive.

This trend has set off alarm bells among professionals in the science and nutrition community. They now concentrate focus on retaining nutrients found in whole foods. These groups have raised questions concerning how companies and consumers process, advertise, and obtain food.

Some nutritional scientists have identified "ultra-processed" foods and beverages as the main causes of the dietary patterns that have led to the global epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases associated with inflammation.

It also appears that processed foods consumed in excess can pose long term health concerns. NIFA (National Institute of Food and Agriculture), for example, reports an alarming figure that processed foods represent more than half of all calories consumed in North America. They make up more than 89% of the added sugar consumption in the North American diet. Canada seems to be leading the US in implementing legislation governing food processing, additives and preservatives.  

Some studies have revealed negative perceptions toward processed foods, basically because classifying foods according to their processing level is not clear and concise. The same research indicates that well-targeted educational "campaigns" on nutrition and the level of food processing would help consumers make informed, healthier, choices.

The opposite side of the coin is what exactly are unprocessed foods? Unprocessed foods are considered to be any product intended to be ingested by humans to provide the energy and nutrients necessary to sustain life.

Unprocessed foods may be plant based foods (fruits, seeds, roots, leaves), algae and fungi, shortly after being harvested extracted from nature. They can also be meats and dairy products derived from animals.

Most unprocessed foods have two significant limitations.

  • First, they are very perishable and are only able to be stored for a short time.
  • Second, they demand culinary procedures (such as removing inedible parts, cleaning, seasoning, and cooking) to make them digestible, healthy, and palatable.

These limitations of unprocessed foods are the main reasons for the development of numerous food processing techniques.

When it comes to considering the quality of the food we eat, nutrition, and public health, we need to ask ourselves a couple more questions:

  1. What can be in them?
  2. What is the effect of processed foods can have on our bodies?

So… What Can Be in Them

What processed foods can contain will depend on the nature, extent, and general purposes of the processing. To understand this correctly, we need to break things down even further and talk about three types of processing.

Type-1 processing

Type-1 processing is the least invasive and does not substantially change the nutritional properties of unprocessed foods, and can sometimes improve them. Such processes include, removing inedible or undesirable parts, to cleaning and preparation for final presentation that involves skimming / pasteurization and cold storage. It can range from products that are in a simple paper wrapper to bottled or vacuum packed, and possibly introducing a gas to extend the duration of fresh or natural foods to accommodate their storage and reduce the effort and time involved in culinary preparation.

These are considered “minimally” processed, and classified below as Group 1 foods, along with fresh, perishable, unprocessed foods.

  • Animal origin (native animals, fish, shellfish, bovine meat, poultry, eggs, milk, etc.)
  • Cereals (grains).
  • Legumes, nuts, fruits, vegetables, roots, and tubers.

In suitable mixtures, all the foods in this group form the basis for a healthy diet.

Type-2 processing

Type-2 processing is a variety of procedures for the extraction and “purification” of specific substances in fresh or natural group-1 foods. It employs a series of techniques or technologies of pressing, milling, refining, use of enzymes and additives, among others, for two purposes:

  • Convert fresh or natural foods into culinary ingredients used to prepare and cook whole, fresh, or minimally processed foods at home or in food establishments, such as restaurants, cafes, and markets.
  • Convert raw foods into ingredients for the food industry, used in the industrial development of ultra-processed products (see below).

The foods that result from this type of food processing are culinary or food industry ingredients and both belong to group 2 foods. These are:

  • Oils, fats
  • Sugar and sweeteners
  • Flours and starches (and pasta when made with only flour and water)
  • Salt 

Most of the products produced from this type of processing have been stripped of their nutrients. They are usually not pleasant in their pure state, except for maybe sugars, and not typically consumed alone.

Type-3 processing

The third type of processing combines the already processed ingredients from group 2, usually with little or no food from group 1.

It uses specific processes such as baking, frying in abundant oil, preservatives, artificial food coloring, flavor stabilizers, artificial flavors and volume enhancers. These enhancers can be air or water. It also uses synthetic micronutrients to "fortify" the products and may add synthetic vitamins and minerals and require sophisticated packaging or handling.

The purpose is to create durable, convenient, accessible, attractive, and profitable products that taste exceptionally good. They are usually ready or almost ready to eat / heat or drink. Typical products have been labeled “junk” food and are typically consumed as snacks or desserts, but also “heat and eat” foods to replace dishes made at home or in restaurant kitchens.

The list of ultra-processed products is very extensive, and they are the result of the use of sophisticated technology, and the ingredients are hard to pronounce and often are not clearly labeled.  Here are some examples:

Chicken Nuggets

Chicken nuggets are generally 50% fat and have more carbohydrates than protein. Most chicken nuggets are fried and contain trans-fat. They also contain many preservatives that are unhealthy.

Sodas

They generally taste addictive, but drinking them does not provide nutritional benefits. A can of sugary or sweetened soda increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by more than 22%. Consuming it in excess stimulates the development of obesity in the future.

Burgers

Burgers can be high in calories and often a threat to the body. Fast food burgers often contain trans fats and help increase bad cholesterol. Consuming them frequently may also lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart problems.

Granola bars

Despite being marketed under the slogan of "healthy," these can be harmful due to the high sugar and sodium content. Reading and understanding the list ingredients carefully is a must.

Bread, cupcakes, and cookies

These items are meant to appeal to your taste buds but typically contain high levels of salt, sugar, preservatives, and trans-fats. Beware, and limit how much and how often you consume them.

Others may include:

Butter flavored microwave popcorn, sugary cereal, hot dogs, ice cream, "instant" sauces, red meat, and chicken extracts. Also, "health" and "slimming" products, such as meal replacements and powdered or "fortified" dishes and many more.

Avoid industrially formulated foods with five or more ingredients; they may contain, for example, colorants, flavor enhancers, or hydrogenated oils. They are ultra-processed and may be most harmful to your health. 

Although some processed foods simulate homemade dishes, they are normally very different due to the combinations of additives and preservatives used in their preparation.

Now that you know what processed foods may contain, it is advisable to read all labels and cut down on processed foods.

The Effect Processed Foods Can Have On Our Bodies

All type-1 processed foods in suitable mixes can form the basis of a good diet for healthy eating. This is because they generally do not contain added salt, sugar, or preservative.

The same occurs is true with processed type-2 foods. Used moderately, they can be consumed in combination with unprocessed and processed type-1 foods without adverse effects

The same is not the case with type-3 processed foods. These foods appear in multiple studies as the cause of many diseases, and most of them have a common effect, inflammation.

Inflammation is a normal reaction of the body to protect itself from aggressions as a physiological process. Inflammation rarely presents itself immediately and manifests itself over time. It typically  manifests itself in the form of multiple diseases such as cardiovascular, obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and accelerated aging, and auto immune deficiency, just to name a few.

An improper diet can have a powerful influence on inflammation in our body. Suppose your diet is rich in saturated fat and sugar, abundant in ultra-processed and very energetic products. This common dietary practice is considered a pro-inflammatory diet, and lead to serious trouble.

What is the effect processed foods can have on our bodies? For the most part, it is inflammation.

Here are some processed foods and the effects they can have on our bodies:

Processed meat

Some studies associate the consumption of processed meats as one of the foods with the highest risk of generating heart disease, stomach cancer, diabetes, and, above all, digestive diseases. Studies indicate that many forms of processed meats contain products that, cooked at high temperatures, cause inflammation. These processed meats include smoked meat, sausage, bacon, cold cuts, and jerky.

Sugar

Sugar comes in many forms and is composed of glucose and fructose. Sugars added improperly to the diet increase inflammation, which paves the way for developing disease. A study from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston suggests that diets high in sucrose stimulate breast cancer and its spread to the lungs due to the inflammatory response to sugar. 

Artificial trans-fats

Unlike naturally occurring fats in dairy and meat, some studies have shown that artificial trans fats cause inflammation and increase cardiovascular disease risk. Additionally, they reduce HDL (good) cholesterol and affect the function of the endothelial cells that line the arteries, contributing to heart disease.

Refined carbohydrates

Examples of refined carbohydrates are breads, pastas, breakfast cereals, sodas and sweets, all of which promote inflammation.  These can have a significant impact on your health when consumed in excess. Researchers suggest that refined carbohydrates predispose gut bacteria's growth, increasing the risk of inflammatory bowel disease and obesity.

Keep in mind that digestive health is directly proportional to the quantity and nutritional quality of what we eat. The migratory trend from traditional foods to processed and ultra-processed foods that put health at risk is real. Only you can decide to eat healthy. Clear Koala provides interesting information about what it means to have an adequate diet for your well-being on its blogs and emails to help you make this decision. Don’t forget to download the FREE E-book that provides over 100 tips on staying healthy. You may be surprised at what you see. Just 1 or 2 things can make a noticeable difference. 

While it is true that many unprocessed foods are highly perishable and cannot be stored for long periods of time quality time in preparation pays off when their natural nutrients are preserved, and they still please the palate. When accomplishing both, it is worth investing that time for better well-being.

Although processed foods are more durable, and have the advantage of being cooked in less time, keep in mind that their consumption is typically not beneficial to overall health. These foods have a low nutritional capacity and, at the same time, are rich in calories. They generally contain ingredients that stimulate inflammation processes that are harmful to the human body.

Type-3 processed foods are generally responsible for causing inflammatory effects in the body. The diseases described in this article and the vast majority of chronic conditions may have their origin traced back to the intestines. and an inadequate diet. You may remember the old saying “You are what you eat” No truer words were spoken.