In America today, we wear busy like a badge of honor. We pride ourselves on being able to do it all, but we end up giving up on many of the most important things, including the tradition of cooking and enjoying meals. We often let fast-food and frozen dinners replace homemade meals, but is this at the cost of our health? Are processed foods harmful? It depends on who you ask. Why should we avoid processed foods?

In the past 50 years, the processed food market has surged, and American health has declined. Food-related diseases such as heart disease diabetes continue to rise, and the popularity of home cooking continues to decline. In this article, we will examine whether convenience foods or processed foods are really bad for you?

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What exactly are processed foods?

Food processing is any deliberate change in food that occurs. However, when people refer to processed foods, they’re usually not referring to pre-chopped lettuce or boneless skinless chicken breasts. We mean chips, crackers, frozen pizza, meal “helpers” of any kind, canned meats, pasta, canned soup, etc.

All the foods that are designed to make your life easier are processed foods even the healthy ones. Just because something is low calorie does not automatically mean it is healthy. You can lose weight without being healthy.

Why Are Processed foods bad?

Trans Fat, Refined Carbohydrates, and Sugar.

Ultimately, this is the trifecta that is (mostly) responsible for the obesity epidemic. Manufactured trans fats are fats created by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil. They are terrible for cholesterol and overall health. After much debate,  the FDA has declared they, “are no longer recognized as safe,” and they will be off the shelves by 2020. Until then, continue to be mindful of them.

Carbohydrates are what the body uses for quick energy. Sugar and corn syrup are the purest form of quick energy there is. Think of it as jet fuel, super packed with calories, or energy units.

How Carbs and Fats Work in Our Bodies

After thousands of generations of humans living hard lives near starvation, human bodies are trained to grab all the energy and horde it.  This is why our bodies crave and enjoy sugar. For generations, people were hunter-gatherers who really needed those extra calories.

Fat aka Energy Storage

Our bodies are not designed to “waste” any of this energy. So, if we get too many carbs or too much fat, our bodies store it in our bodies. The extra fat stored in our tummy and thighs is actually like a second gas tank of fuel for your body.

This would be great for a nomad whose next meal depends on their hunt of the day. However, today we have a tough time burning off all those calories we consume. 

We Don’t Need That Energy

We don’t use that energy hunting buffalo, or plowing our fields. Most Americans stay indoors 90% of their day, and a majority of us spend 40 hours a week sitting or standing in one spot at work.

How are we supposed to use all that extra fuel? Even if we exercise regularly, it is impossible to out-cardio the carbs and fat calories in processed food.

Additives

Although it may not be the most dangerous thing about processed foods, it certainly is something to worry about: the industry add-ins. What exactly is in those chips? That soup? That microwavable dinner? It looks like peas and carrots, but what exactly is it?

In reality,the FDA approves in many additives for use in food. Many are harmless, but many have shown to have terrible effects on your health. 

Worst Food Additives

This diagram lists some of the worst additives from EWG’s Dirty Dozen Food Additives list. Notice how most of these chemicals are used in food marketed toward children. Shouldn’t we have higher safety standards for our kids?

Also, every single one of these ingredients is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, but are classified as carcinogens and endocrine disruptors (or worse) by other organizations. A carcinogen is a chemical known to cause cancer. Endocrine disruptors affect our hormones and disrupt our endocrine system.

This list does not include chemicals like glyphosate (the main ingredient in RoundUp) that end up in foods as a side effect of modern farming practices. The FDA also allows for trace amounts of these chemicals in foods as well, and they don’t make it to the ingredients list.

Sketchy Science

If it wasn’t safe, they wouldn’t sell it. After all, they did ban trans fats right? So many believe this in our society.

The truth is that trans fats were banned only after 40 years of data was accumulated against them. 

After every study that came out claiming trans fats were dangerous, the food industry hired scientists to prove the safety of trans fats.

Scientist hired by the food industry are telling Americans what is good for them. Kind of feels like the Matrix doesn’t it?

The truth is this isn’t the first time and won’t be the last.

Lobbying by the Food Industry

According to Open Secrets, so far in 2018 alone the food processing and sales industry has spent almost $17,000,000 on lobbying efforts, a number that has tripled in the past ten years mostly because of “increased congressional action on issues that affect the industry such as food safety, labeling regulations, and anti-obesity initiatives.” This number does not include the Agriculture industry, only the processed food makers and grocery stores.  So, with this much money being spent to fight for the food industry, it begs the question, who is fighting for the health of the people?

The Solution

So, how do we fight the big food industry with all of their scientist and money? How do we make them stop selling harmful foods?

We just stop buying them.

Instead of pre-made meals, we purchase ingredients and make our own food. We check ingredients lists on everything, buy organic when we can, and prioritize cooking and mealtime over the rest of our busy schedules. After all, our health is everything.

Don’t know where to start? The best place to start is in your pantry, reading ingredients labels. Also, check out some of our great simple real food recipes.