Nearly 60% of the calories consumed in the U.S. between 2007 and 2012 came from foods that are considered "ultra-processed."
As processed foods become more common around the world, increased levels of obesity and illness follow. These foods are often high in artificial ingredients, sugar, trans fat, and refined carbohydrates.
Are you wondering why you should choose non-processed foods? On top of that, are organic foods better than non-organic foods?
Let's take a look at what you need to know.
What's So Bad About Processed Foods?
Processed food is a term that refers to any food that has been altered during its preparation to make it more flavorful, self-stable, or convenient. There is a spectrum when it comes to processed foods. For example, pre-cut vegetables you can buy are technically processed, but they are only minimally processed because the natural state of the food hasn't changed.
On the other hand, a microwavable dinner or a box of mac and cheese is considered heavily processed. This is because the food has been altered chemically with additives, artificial flavors, and other ingredients.
The concern regarding processed foods isn't about items like canned tuna or canned vegetables. Instead, it's about foods like cake mixes, crackers, and other foods with added chemical flavoring agents, sweeteners, and colors.
There are a number of reasons ultra-processed foods are problematic for our health. These include:
- Lacking in nutritional value
- Having too much sodium, sugar, and fat
- Calorie dense but nutritionally deficient
- Quicker to digest so that our bodies burn less energy while digesting
- Full of artificial ingredients
- Low in fiber
Eating foods that have added sugar or ingredients like high fructose corn syrup is linked with a number of health conditions. These include type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and inflammatory diseases. Consuming too much sugar on a regular basis can also lead to compulsive overeating.
Foods that include refined carbohydrates can lead to a spike in insulin and blood sugar levels. Once these levels drop, it can lead to reduced energy and food cravings. Eating refined carbs is linked with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Trans fats are also a concern when it comes to ultra-processed foods. This leads to increased inflammation in the body and higher levels of "bad" cholesterol. It also is associated with lower levels of "good" cholesterol.
Eating trans fat is linked with a higher risk of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
Why Should You Eat Non-Processed Foods?
Unfortunately, processed foods have become the norm in the Western diet. There are a lot of good reasons to eat "whole foods" or foods that have been only minimally processed. These include:
- They are full of important vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients
- They are low in sugar
- Real foods can contain healthy antioxidants that support heart health and protect against disease
- They are better for the environment because they require less energy to produce
- They are high in fiber
- Whole foods can help you manage blood sugar
- Whole foods like vegetables, beans, fish, and olive oil can help nourish and protect your skin
- They can help lower triglycerides
- Eating less processed foods is cheaper
- Whole foods contain healthy fats rather than trans and processed fats
- Eating whole foods might reduce the risk of a number of diseases
- Whole foods can be beneficial to your gut microbiome
- They can help prevent overeating
- They promote oral health
- Whole foods might help reduce sugar cravings
- Eating local whole foods helps support local farmers and the local economy
When you eat natural foods, there are countless health benefits. Supporting your body in a number of ways, you can feel more energetic, healthier, and better all-around when you focus on eating whole foods rather than processed foods.
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Why Should You Eat Organic Foods?
Eating non-processed foods is an important step towards living a healthy life. However, conventionally grown vegetables and conventionally raised meat and dairy can be impacted by practices that have negative effects on your health.
When you buy vegetables at the store that aren't organic, chances are they've been grown using synthetic pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. They also might be genetically modified.
Conventional livestock is typically given growth hormones, antibiotics, and potentially animal by-products. When you choose organic, you are benefiting both your health and the environment in a number of ways:
- There are fewer pesticides in organic produce
- Organic food is GMO-free
- Organic farming is more supportive of the environment and wildlife
- Organic food is often fresher because it doesn't contain preservatives
- Organic milk and meat can be richer in certain nutrients
- Organically raised animals are not given growth hormones, antibiotics, or fed animal byproducts, all of which have negative consequences for the environment and health
Eating organic can be more expensive, but many individuals decide that the health and environmental benefits are worth the extra cost. It's worth noting that some local farms might use organic processes without having a "certified organic" label. It can be quite costly to become certified organic, and some farms choose to communicate their chemical-free growing process to their customers without receiving this certification.
Is It Time For You to Move Away From Processed Foods?
As you can see, there are numerous health benefits to moving away from processed foods in favor of whole foods. There are additional considerations worth taking into account when it comes to whether the food you are eating was grown and raised with organic practices.
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