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11 Reasons Why Processed Foods Are Bad For Your Health

Do you often buy packaged and processed foods from supermarkets or nearby stores? If yes, you should know that they can be harmful to your health. The toxic chemicals can get into your system, leached from recycled cardboard or plastic packaging. In this article, we will be writing about the harmful effects of packaged and processed foods.

The synthetic chemicals used in food packaging, storage and processing are harmful and they have a long-term impact on health. These chemicals contaminate the food and an exposure to these chemicals can deteriorate your health[1] .

processed foods list

Most of these processed, packaged foods are loaded with sodium, sugar, factory-created fats, artificial flavours, food colouring, and preservatives. All these are added and the crucial nutrients are stripped off which are needed for protecting your health. With all the additives the food becomes totally a disaster.

What Are The Ingredients Used In Processed Foods

1. Refined grains

Refined grains like rolls, white bread, low-fibre cereals, white pasta, and white rice up your heart attack risk by up to 30 per cent [2] . Many packaged foods have labels saying that they are made with wheat flour but mostly they are not. Refined grains are devoid of important nutrients and having them leads to an increased risk of high cholesterol, heart attack, high blood pressure, diabetes and belly fat.

2. Sodium

Sodium is one such condiment that's hidden in processed foods like canned soups, noodles, canned vegetables, soy sauce, and preserved meats like ham, bacon and turkey. Eating too much salt present in these foods will store extra water in the body which raises your blood pressure [3] . And when there is a rise in blood pressure, the greater the strain in your heart, kidneys, arteries and brain. However, salts are naturally present in healthy unprocessed foods like milk, beetroot, drinking water and celery. But, having these foods won't raise your blood pressure levels.

3. Trans fats

Trans fats are used as a cheap replacement for butter and coconut oil. This ingredient is widely used in products like crackers, bakery muffins, popcorn, French fries, margarine, etc. Trans fats are the worst as they elevate your bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol levels. They also increase the levels of artery-clogging lipoprotein and triglycerides. This is bad for your heart as it leads to premature heart disease [4] .

4. High-fructose corn syrup

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is another ingredient used in processed foods, especially frozen foods such as English muffins, whole wheat bread, and ketchup. It is also used in beer, bacon, soft drinks and spaghetti sauce. High-fructose corn syrup can affect metabolism, increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease and the chemical structure of the syrup lets you overeat [5] .

5. Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin are added in soft drinks, soda, frozen desserts, baked goods, chewing gum, etc. These are added to imitate the sweetness of sugar but, it actually does more harm than good. Consumption of artificial sweeteners will disrupt your metabolic system and trick your brain to have more sweet which increases sugar cravings.

Other toxic food ingredients used in processed foods include shortening, palm oil, sodium benzoate, potassium benzoate, butylated hydroxyanisole, MSG and sodium nitrate.

bad processed foods infographic

Harmful Effects Of Processed Foods

1. Raises blood sugar

Processed foods are laden with refined carbohydrates which upon ingestion gets quickly broken down in the digestive tract, leading to spikes in insulin and blood sugar levels. This lets you crave for more foods because your body isn't fully satisfied. This has a negative impact on your health and could lead to chronic diseases [6] .

2. Harms the digestive tract

The processed foods are stripped of soluble fibre, one of the main nutrients which act as a prebiotic by feeding the friendly gut bacteria in the intestine [7] . Without healthy gut bacteria, the digestive system can go out of whack. It also helps in preventing inflammation-related autoimmune diseases.

Fibre also has other functions which include slowing down the absorption of carbs, making you feeling full and satisfied and treating constipation to name a few [8] .

3. Leads to obesity

Processed foods are packed with high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners which when consumed in excess is harmful. These have empty calories without essential nutrients and they can affect your metabolism largely [9] . Also, these processed foods contain no fibre which helps to control your cravings preventing weight gain. If these foods are consumed in excess, it will lead to increased fat accumulation in the abdomen and liver [10] .

4. Increases high blood pressure

Excess sodium consumption increases blood pressure (hypertension) and high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke[11] . Because when the blood pressure rises, it stiffens and constricts the blood vessels and as a result blood and oxygen flow decreases. So the heart tries hard to pump blood faster throughout the body which in turn increases blood pressure even more.

5. Causes kidney damage

Too much intake of salt in the form of packaged, processed foods can damage your kidneys. Excess fluid gets stored in the body which puts a strain on the kidneys as it works hard to flush out the fluid, thereby leading to kidney problems. In addition, high salt intake also increases the amount of protein in the urine, a major risk factor for the decline in kidney function.

6. Increases cancer risk

Fizzy drinks, packaged snacks, sugary low-fibre cereals, etc., increases cancer risk by 12 per cent suggests research. The researchers in France studied the diet of 100,000 people for 7 consecutive years. The study found a slight increase in the rate of cancer, especially breast cancer [12] .

7. Weakens the brain

Packaged, processed foods can make people get addicted and that's why people end up eating more of these foodstuffs [13] . The brain releases dopamine also known as the happy hormone which gives a sense of satisfaction to people when they consume these foods which are similar to drugs. This slowly and steadily makes the brain weak and addicted to these foods.

8. Increases heart attack risk

As packaged, processed foods are high in trans fats, they are harmful to the body. Trans fats increase the risk of heart disease by elevating bad cholesterol and are also the major cause of inflammation in the body[14] [15] . Trans fats are hydrogenated fats which means they are industrially formed vegetable fats that increase the risk of coronary heart disease [16] .

9. Triggers asthma

Some of the packaged foods can cause asthma due to the added additives and preservatives. These foods include canned fish, dried fruits, and foods with colours. Apart from this Bisphenol-A or BPA is a chemical that is used in the lining of the packaging containers to extend its shelf life. This leaches into your food causing asthmatic problems, imitates the body's hormones and interferes with the secretion of natural hormones [17] .

10. Can cause infertility

Soft drinks and soda have lots of sugar, calories, sulphites, artificial sweeteners and artificial food colouring. Regular consumption of these foods causes health problems like infertility and miscarriages. The trans fats in processed foods also have a negative impact on fertility [18] . So, avoid having these foods as much as possible.

11. Causes inflammatory bowel disease

Consumption of processed foods also leads to the development of inflammatory bowel disease also known as Crohn's disease. A chemical additive called emulsifiers are used in packaged, processed foods to extend shelf life and keep intact the food texture which when consumed cause inflammatory bowel disease. This additive is found in foods like peanut butter, cake mixes, bread, sauce, yoghurt, ice cream and processed cheese.

To Conclude...

Replace the packaged, processed foods with healthy foods like fishes, fruits and vegetables and meat to reduce the ill effects caused to the body.

View Article References
  1. [1] BMJ-British Medical Journal. (2014). Food packaging chemicals may be harmful to human health over long term.ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 14, 2018 from
  2. [2] Masters, R. C., Liese, A. D., Haffner, S. M., Wagenknecht, L. E., & Hanley, A. J. (2010). Whole and refined grain intakes are related to inflammatory protein concentrations in human plasma.The Journal of nutrition,140(3), 587-94.
  3. [3] He, F. J., Campbell, N. R., & MacGregor, G. A. (2012). Reducing salt intake to prevent hypertension and cardiovascular disease.Revista Panamericana de Salud Pública,32, 293-300.
  4. [4] Dhaka, V., Gulia, N., Ahlawat, K. S., & Khatkar, B. S. (2011). Trans fats-sources, health risks and alternative approach - A review.Journal of food science and technology,48(5), 534-541.
  5. [5] Ko, E. A., Kim, H. R., Kim, Y. B., Kim, H. S., & Lee, S. H. (2017). Effect of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) Intake on the Female Reproductive Organs and Lipid Accumulation in Adult Rats.Development & reproduction,21(2), 151-156.
  6. [6] Hu, F. B. (2010). Are refined carbohydrates worse than saturated fat? The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 91(6), 1541–1542.
  7. [7] A. Parnell, J., & A. Reimer, R. (2012). Prebiotic fiber modulation of the gut microbiota improves risk factors for obesity and the metabolic syndrome. Gut Microbes, 3(1), 29–34.
  8. [8] Suares, N. C., & Ford, A. C. (2011). Systematic review: the effects of fibre in the management of chronic idiopathic constipation.Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics,33(8), 895-901.
  9. [9] Stanhope, K. L., Schwarz, J.-M., & Havel, P. J. (2013). Adverse metabolic effects of dietary fructose. Current Opinion in Lipidology, 24(3), 198-206.
  10. [10] Stanhope, K. L., Schwarz, J. M., Keim, N. L., Griffen, S. C., Bremer, A. A., Graham, J. L., Hatcher, B., Cox, C. L., Dyachenko, A., Zhang, W., McGahan, J. P., Seibert, A., Krauss, R. M., Chiu, S., Schaefer, E. J., Ai, M., Otokozawa, S., Nakajima, K., Nakano, T., Beysen, C., Hellerstein, M. K., Berglund, L., … Havel, P. J. (2009). Consuming fructose-sweetened, not glucose-sweetened, beverages increases visceral adiposity and lipids and decreases insulin sensitivity in overweight/obese humans.The Journal of clinical investigation,119(5), 1322-1334.
  11. [11] Turlova, E., & Feng, Z. P. (2012). Dietary salt intake and stroke.Acta pharmacologica Sinica,34(1), 8-9.
  12. [12] Fiolet, T., Srour, B., Sellem, L., Kesse-Guyot, E., Allès, B., Méjean, C., Deschasaux, M., Fassier, P., Latino-Martel, P., Beslay, M., Hercberg, S., Lavalette, C., Monteiro, C. A., Julia, C., … Touvier, M. (2018). Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort.BMJ (Clinical research ed.),360, k322.
  13. [13] Davis, C. (2013). From Passive Overeating to “Food Addiction”: A Spectrum of Compulsion and Severity. ISRN Obesity, 2013, 1–20.
  14. [14] Ghosh, S., Novak, E. M., & Innis, S. M. (2007). Cardiac proinflammatory pathways are altered with different dietary n-6 linoleic to n-3 α-linolenic acid ratios in normal, fat-fed pigs. American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology, 293(5), H2919-H2927.
  15. [15] LANDS, W. E. M. (2005). Dietary Fat and Health: The Evidence and the Politics of Prevention: Careful Use of Dietary Fats Can Improve Life and Prevent Disease. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1055(1), 179-192.
  16. [16] Ascherio, A., & Willett, W. C. (1997). Health effects of trans fatty acids. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 66(4), 1006S-1010S.
  17. [17] Robinson, L., & Miller, R. (2015). The Impact of Bisphenol A and Phthalates on Allergy, Asthma, and Immune Function: a Review of Latest Findings.Current environmental health reports,2(4), 379-87.
  18. [18] Grieger, J. A., Grzeskowiak, L. E., Bianco-Miotto, T., Jankovic-Karasoulos, T., Moran, L. J., Wilson, R. L., … Roberts, C. T. (2018). Pre-pregnancy fast food and fruit intake is associated with time to pregnancy. Human Reproduction, 33(6), 1063-1070.

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