Explainer: Why processed foods are harmful to health

Explainer: Why processed foods are harmful to health

Published on :


Processed food

Processed foods can lead people to consume more than the recommended amounts of sugar, salt, and fat, causing diverse health problems.

Do you believe that packaged cereals, oatmeals, energy drinks, granola bars, flavour-infused yoghurts, protein bars, veggie chips, and so on are as healthy as home-cooked meals? If your answer is yes, you are in for an unpleasant surprise.

Processed foods can lead people to consume more than the recommended amounts of sugar, salt, and fat as they may not be aware of how much has been added to the food they are eating. These foods are also, typically, higher in calories.

“We’ve all heard the expression ‘you are what you eat’, and it’s true because your skin cells replace themselves every 35 days or so, while your liver cells take about a month. At least once a day, your immune cell kills a cell that could have become cancerous. Your body makes new cells from the food you eat,” says Dr Shugufta Meraj, a clinical dietitian based in Kashmir, India.

Think about it: Why does your store-bought packet of biscuits last for months, whereas homemade cookies only last a day or so? Packaged foods contain harmful chemicals, which increase their shelf life while hampering your health. Here’s a quick look at the main culprits: 

  • High levels of preservatives: Preservatives are added to products to increase their shelf life and prevent spoilage. However, preservatives like sodium nitrate and sodium benzoate have been associated with health issues like cancer, allergies, and hyperactivity in children.
  • High in salt, sugar, and fat: To enhance the flavour and texture of packaged goods, ingredients such as salt, sugar and fat are frequently added in large quantities. However, taking an excessive amount of these can cause heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
  • Lack of nutrients: Essential nutrients, including fibre, vitamins, and minerals, are frequently missing from packaged foods. These vitamins and minerals are crucial for preserving good health and avoiding chronic illnesses.
  • Contaminants: Packaged foods may also contain contaminants such as bacteria, pesticides, and heavy metals, which can be unhealthy for the consumers’ health.
  • Artificial colours: Artificial food dyes found in processed foods are linked to brain tumours, hyperactivity, hypersensitivity, and other behavioural effects in children. Monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is found in chips, processed meats, and a wide array of other foods, is an excitotoxin that can lead to cell damage, trigger brain dysfunction, and lead to learning disabilities, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and more.

In the best interest of your health, it is advisable to limit your consumption of packaged foods. At the grocery store, remember to check the label before you fill your basket. The longer a food’s ingredients list, typically, the more processed it is. If the majority of the ingredients are difficult-to-pronounce chemicals rather than actual food, it’s a fair bet that the food has been severely processed.

Whenever feasible, choose to prepare meals at home using fresh, healthy ingredients. As someone had wisely said, “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.”