Most people today are aware that processed foods are not as good for them as fresh and nutrient-rich foods. However, despite nutritionists, health experts, and family doctors constantly warning us of the dangers of highly processed foods, we continue to eat them on a daily basis.
Processed foods have become such a normal staple in our diets that we have become somewhat immune to anyone saying otherwise. We hear them, and we probably know it’s true, but we don’t take what they’re saying to heart because we don’t fully understand how bad these foods really are for us.
However, highly processed foods are harmful and can impact your health in many ways. Sometimes we just need the facts laid out before us for the issue to sink in. So, let’s take a look at what highly processed foods are and how exactly they can impact individual health.
What Are Highly Processed Foods?
General processed foods are defined as any food that has undergone a change from its natural state. This can mean any number of things, such as raw food being subjected to cleaning, heating, cooking, pasteurizing, preservatives, or packaging. As such, many foods could then be considered processed.
Highly processed foods, however, are a bit different. Foods that are considered highly processed are those that have undergone any of the processes listed for generally processed foods but with a significant addition of additives and preservatives to promote long shelf life and improved taste. Essentially, highly processed foods are those that have lots of fat, sugar, artificial coloring and flavors, and preservatives added.
It is also speculated that ultra-processed foods are designed to increase cravings and food addictions to entice consumers to eat and buy them more often, which means more money for the companies producing them. Processed foods, then, are not made with the health and safety of the public in mind but for the purpose of making as much money as possible.
Unfortunately, this scheme has worked, as the average American diet consists primarily of highly processed foods. The problem is that processed foods are often stripped of their nutrients and instead focus on salt, sugar, and fat to make them taste better — but nutrients are necessary for the body to be strong and healthy and to work properly.
Ways Highly Processed Foods Can Impact Your Health
Below are five ways ultra-processed foods can affect your health.
The endocrine system, otherwise known as your hormones, plays a significant role in how your body feels and operates. The slightest imbalance of hormones can throw a number of bodily functions off and overall make you feel like you’re struggling. The foods you eat can affect your hormone levels.
Insulin and glucagon, for example, are two hormones that keep the body healthy and prevent diabetes. Eating an overall unhealthy diet made up of processed foods can easily mess with these hormones. Likewise, estrogen and testosterone are essential hormones that play a role in your energy levels, mood, and sex drive, and a diet that lacks nutrients will diminish these hormone levels.
2. Mental Health
Mental health issues, like anxiety and depression, are also linked to diet. The more processed foods you eat, the more it slows down essential bodily functions, which can impact you both physically and mentally. Brain function, for example, can be affected by the foods you eat.
When your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs, you can start to feel very sluggish and lack energy. It also messes with serotonin levels and cortisol, which play a role in your mood and stress levels. When these parts of your body are out of balance, it can make you feel less happy, more stressed, and less energized — all things that can contribute to depression.
3. Eye Health
Eating a nutrient-rich diet can help you maintain good vision and reduce your chances of developing issues such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, and cataracts. Thus, eating a diet composed of primarily highly processed foods can worsen your eyesight and increase your risk of developing eye conditions and diseases.
4. Skin Health
The foods you eat play a major role in how your skin looks and feels. If you’ve done any beauty research or looked into how to improve your skin, you’ve likely heard this before. Breakouts, fine lines, dullness, and dryness are all things that can be improved by eating a healthier diet or worsened by eating a greasy, fatty, high-sugar diet.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, people started developing what is being referred to as quarantine skin — dull and laden with blemishes — because stress and anxiety made them turn to unhealthy, highly processed comfort foods. It was also much harder to get out and purchase healthy, fresh foods at the grocery stores and markets.
5. Sleep Quality
Nutrition and sleep quality are also linked. Certain foods make it easier or harder to fall asleep. Typically, fresh fruits and vegetables are better for a good night’s rest. The interconnectedness between physical health and a diet rich in nutrients means that this diet will also affect how you hit the hay. Less processed foods mean less chance of obesity and heart issues, meaning you are less likely to develop conditions that disrupt your sleep, such as sleep apnea.
There are numerous ways a diet composed of highly processed foods can impact your health. Those listed above are just a few of the many issues that individuals can struggle with if they don’t consume enough nutrient-rich foods.
Overall, your physical and mental health can be significantly impacted and can increase your risk of diseases, such as cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and autoimmune diseases. So if you want to live a long, healthy life, it’s best to consume as few ultra-processed foods as possible.
Katie Brenneman is a passionate writer specializing in lifestyle, mental health, and fitness-related content. When she isn’t writing, you can find her with her nose buried in a book or hiking with her dog, Charlie. To connect with Katie, you can follow her on Twitter.
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