Just to clarify, some food processing can be beneficial. But, when I say processed foods here I’m referring to any alteration to foods or ingredients that either removes health-promoting components (such as fiber or phytochemicals, for example) or adds harmful components (such as trans fats, for example).
So the term processed foods is a bit of a loose term.
1. Processed Foods Tend to be Low in Fiber
Fiber, especially soluble, fermentable fiber, has many important health benefits.
One of the main ones is that it functions as a prebiotic, feeding the friendly bacteria in the intestine. This helps to keep our gut microbiome healthy and diverse.
Fiber also reduces blood sugar spikes after meals, and helps to curb appetite. This means we feel more satisfied with fewer calories.
Unfortunately, the fiber found naturally in foods is often lost during processing, or intentionally removed. Therefore, most processed foods are very low in fiber.
2. Processed Foods Are Often High in Trans Fats or Processed Vegetable Oils
Vegetable oils are an unnaturally concentrated source of polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acids, which research now suggests could be a key driver of oxidation and inflammation in the body.
Unfortunately they are one of the main ingredients in most processed foods. It’s no surprise that in just the last half century, the amount of linoleic acid in our fat tissue – a type of omega-6 rich polyunsaturated fatty acid – has increased by approximately 136%.
You can see the stark upwards trend, and this is on the back of seed oils we consume such as soybean and sunflower oil.
Interestingly, current linoleic acid content of fat tissue in Europe is about where the US was in 1970, which reflects their less processed diet.
If the oils are hydrogenated, that makes them even worse because they then contain trans fats, which are undoubtedly one of the more harmful substances we can put in our bodies.
The best way to avoid highly processed oils and trans fats is not actually to avoid cooking with them altogether, because this is but a tiny fraction of our intake. The best way is actually to avoid junk foods and ready-made sauces. You’d be surprised at just how much vegetable oil these foods have; it’s often the number 1 or 2 ingredient.
3. It Requires Less Energy and Time to Digest Processed Foods
Food manufacturers have certain criteria for their products. They need to have a long shelf life. Each batch of the product must be identical in consistency and taste. And ultimately the product should be easy to consume, so we buy more of it.
Given the way foods are processed, they are often very easy to chew and swallow. Sometimes, it’s almost as if they melt in your mouth. This of course is largely due to highly refined ingredients and fiber removal.
Not only can we easily eat more calories when in this processed form, but we also burn less calories digesting them compared to if they were unprocessed, whole foods. This is known as the Thermic effect of food.
One study in 17 healthy men and women compared the difference in energy expenditure after consuming a processed vs a whole foods-based meal.
They ate a sandwich, either with multi-grain bread and cheddar cheese (whole foods) or with white bread and processed cheese (processed foods).
It turned out that they burned twice as many calories digesting the unprocessed meal. That means people who get more calories from processed food compared to whole food also effectively reduce the amount of calories they burn throughout the day.
4. Processed Foods Are Typically Higher in Sugar
It is well known that sugar, when consumed in excess, is seriously harmful. Problem is processed foods make it very simple to consume it excessively.
This is because sugar is added to improve and increase palatability and overall taste. It’s the reason low-fat products typically have more added sugar then regular-fat alternatives.
In fact, most aren’t putting massive amounts of sugar in their tea or coffee. They’re getting it from sugar-sweetened beverages and processed junk foods.
Further reading: https://authoritynutrition.com/9-ways-that-processed-foods-are-killing-people/
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Studies mentioned in video:
Study 1: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26567191
Study 2: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20613890
Post time: Oct-21-2017