Processed foods have the advantage of saving time and this makes them tempting to people who have a busy lifestyle and for those who don’t particularly like to cook. Most processed foods also come with a low price tag that is hard for many consumers to resist. However, at some point we really need to look at the hidden costs that processed foods have on our health.
It is no secret by now that the vast majority of processed foods are not healthy. In general, they are very low in nutrients, especially micronutrients like antioxidants and vitamins, while simultaneously being high on calories. They also contain industrially engineered ingredients that can be very harmful to the human body.
Eliminating all processed foods from your diet may be quite difficult. However, you can significantly improve your healthy by eliminating the worst of the processed foods. Below, you will find a list of the 7 most unhealthy processed foods.
Chicken Nuggets – Like hot dogs, chicken nuggets are at the pinnacle of industrialized foods. While you may think that chicken nuggets are mostly protein, the typical chicken nugget, including the famous chicken McNuggets, are more than 50 percent fat and they contain more carbs than protein. Keep in mind too, that the carb portion is made of very unhealthy carbs found in the fillers and breading.
Most chicken nuggets are deep fried, often in an oil containing trans fat. Trans fat causes cell membrane deformities that contribute to the development of metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Most chicken nuggets also contain many unhealthy additives such as MSG and tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ).
Soda Pop – There is nothing nutritional about sodas; they are empty calories. Moreover, they contain substances that can hurt you. As if sugar wasn’t bad enough, almost all sodas today use high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as a sweetener and this is even worse than sugar. HFCS has been shown to be damaging to the liver as well as causing blood glucose spikes even worse than normal table sugar would. Soda pop is a primary contributor to the obesity problem in the United States.
Soda pop is also one of the most powerful acid producing substances we can put into our bodies. As such, they cause our naturally alkaline body pH to become acidic. Cancer cells thrive in an acidic environment and can’t survive in an alkaline environment. An acidic body is also much more susceptible to viral and bacterial attacks since it weakens the natural defenses of the body’s immune system.
Hotdogs & Other Processed Meats – Hot dogs have been a staple of the American diet for decades. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council reports that Americans eat about twenty billion hot dogs a year. They also report that ninety-five percent of all American homes serve hot dogs. Of course, lunch meats like bologna also have similar ingredients.
The vast majority of hot dogs and other highly processed meats on the market contain loads of salt, MSG, sodium nitrate and other preservatives, artificial flavors, cheap unhealthy fillers, and mechanically separated meat and poultry. Most people don’t realize that mechanically separated meat has been so highly processed under extreme heat and pressure that whatever nutritional value it had to begin with is lost in the processing. For example, proteins become denatured under these extreme industrial conditions. If you have an absolute craving for a hot dog, look for nitrate free organic hot dogs with no preservatives, artificial flavors, or meat byproducts.
Store Bought Cookies, Cake, Muffins, and Crackers – For the purpose of this article, cookies, cake, muffins, and crackers have all been lumped into a single category because the health issues associated with them are similar. Beyond the obvious high levels of sugar and salt, most of these products also contain trans fat. Trans fat is added in part because it is much cheaper than healthy fats and this makes them more profitable. However, trans fat is also added to prolong shelf life and to improve the texture. In fact, there are whole “food science” labs devoted to figuring out how to use trans fats and other industrial foods to achieve the perfect texture in these types of products.
To determine if a product contains trans fat, you should not go by what it states on the front of the label. The USFDA actually allows manufacturers to label their products with “zero trans fat” if each individual serving contains less than 0.05 grams of trans fat. Many manufacturers simply reduced the size of a serving to reach this magic number. So, instead of a serving size being three cookies, they might say it is one cookie so they could put a “zero trans fat” on the label. To know for sure if a product actually contains trans fat, you need to look at the ingredient list and look for the words “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated.” If these words appear, then the product contains trans fat.
Many Popular Breakfast Cereals – Do you want to know why so many breakfast cereals are “fortified” with vitamins and minerals? The reason is because otherwise they would be so devoid of nutrition, no one would want to buy them. Fortified means that the vitamins are artificially added during the processing of the food. It’s no better than taking a crunchy vitamin, and in fact, usually a low quality vitamin. For example, these fortified cereals often add a form of vitamin D that is not easily used by the human body.
Most breakfast cereals are also loaded with sugar, or worse, high fructose corn syrup. If they contain corn, as many do, then you can bet it it is genetically modified (GMO) corn because this type of corn is much cheaper and this increases their profit. GMO corn has been shown to cause tumors in rodents in a recent study conducted in Europe. Research studies have been limited in the United States and other countries because Monsanto and other biotech companies threaten scientists with lawsuits if they conduct research with their patented seed. However, there have been many anecdotal cases showing cattle and other farm animals getting sick and/or dying from eating GMO corn.
Granola Bars – While you may be surprised to see granola bars on a list of the 7 most unhealthy processed foods, this is actually one of the reasons they are listed here. The marketing of granola bars are exceptionally deceptive. They are usually marketed as an exceptionally healthy food when in fact they are just the opposite. This means people tend to eat more of them thinking they are actually eating a super convenient, tasty, healthy food when they really are not. Parents also tend to feel good about giving granola bars to their kids but they really aren’t any healthier than a candy bar.
Regardless of what you see on the front of the packaging or hear in the commercials, almost every brand of granola bar contains high fructose corn syrup. If you don’t believe this fact, try going into any supermarket and finding a box of granola bars that don’t contain this harmful ingredient. You’ll be hard pressed to find one! Even if they say they are made with honey or maple syrup, read the ingredient label. Some will put a tiny bit of honey or maple syrup for flavor but most of the sweetness is still derived from high fructose corn syrup. They are also sometimes loaded with fat, including trans fat, and lots of sodium too!
Pre-Made Condiments and Salad Dressings – Most condiments and salad dressings contain high fructose corn syrup as this is a really cheap way food manufacturers can add bulk to their product and improve the flavor with very little cost. Many also contain trans fats and food additives like MSG. Another factor that makes them so unhealthy is that we tend to not think about what’s in condiments when we apply them to our food. Even a healthy fresh vegetable salad can quickly become an unhealthy meal if an unhealthy dressing is added.
One way to eat healthier is simply to make your own condiments and salad dressiongs where you can control the ingredients. You can usually store salad dressings and homemade ketchup for at least a week in the refrigerator.
In conclusion, one of the healthiest steps you can take to improving your health is eliminating, or at least significantly reducing, the processed foods you eat. It is also important for you to carefully read the ingredient label when shopping and not just depend on what it says on the front of the package.