Processed Foods – What exactly are we eating out of packages?


Most foods are processed in some form or another which can make the term confusing. There are foods that are mechanically processed which don’t necessarily take away from the healthiness of the food, and then there are foods that are chemically processed. Foods that are chemically processed contain additives and ingredients that don’t have any nutritional benefit and are foreign to our bodies to break down and digest. There’s plenty of reason to steer clear of chemically processed foods and it’s important to understand what constitutes the types of processed foods to avoid.

Mechanically processed foods are those that might be reheated or put in a grinder or that have been pasteurized. Ground beef or heating vegetables up are examples. Nothing is added to these to alter the nutritional integrity of the foods.

On the other hand, chemically processed foods might have artificial sweeteners, food coloring, and/or refined ingredients put in them. There are also ultra processed foods. These “cosmetic” foods are items like packaged bread, frozen meals, cakes, pizzas, and pastries, breakfast cereals, instant soups, sodas, reconstituted meats such as sausages or fish strips, and candy. These foods can taste good and be inexpensive, but in terms of nutritional value, they are lacking. They’re just empty calories that make you feel full. When eaten in excess, these foods can hurt your health because they have added sugar, added salt, high amounts of saturated fat, and far fewer vitamins and good contents like fiber that serve a purpose in our body.

Here are some reasons to stay away from chemically processed foods:

1.      Added artificial ingredients – Various chemicals including flavoring, coloring, texturing agents, and preservatives, can all be found in these foods. We don’t even know everything that is included in the term “artificial flavoring” which is a blend of various chemicals.

2.      Amount of trans fat – Cheap sources of fat are added to these foods such as refined seeds and/or vegetable oils. Even artificial trans fat can be added which makes foods more solid when you add hydrogen to the trans-fat. Eating trans-fat causes inflammation in the body, increases the risk for stroke, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

3.      Too much added sugar – These foods not only contain added sugar, but also high fructose corn syrup. The foods then become high in calories and because most of these foods lead to overeating, there is an increased chance for obesity, metabolic disease, and type 2 diabetes. This is very true when it comes to beverages and having more than one serving at a time.

4.      Having refined carbohydrates – The body breaks down simple carbs quickly so after you eat them, you can have a spike in blood sugar which will raise insulin levels. After a short amount of time, you lose energy and get hungry again. Carbohydrates are healthy but those that come from whole foods are much better nutritionally for us.

Quick calories, packaged items, tasty treats, drinks that go down easy, and those foods that taste good and cost less, have their perks for the taste buds. However, your body needs nutrients that come from much healthier options. Opting for a piece of fruit versus packaged fruit snacks would benefit your body much more. We listen to hunger cues, but we don’t always listen to ourselves when it comes to making better food choices due to cost and convenience. In the long run, our body will reward us. It’s never too late to change to healthy eating. Eat real, whole foods, and you are bound to feel good and look good too.

Ultra-Processed Foods and Health Outcomes: A Narrative Review – PMC (

The Hidden Dangers of Fast and Processed Food – PMC (

Americans are eating more ultra-processed foods: 18-year study measures increase in industrially manufactured foods that may be contributing to obesity and other diseases — ScienceDaily

Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective cohort study (NutriNet-Santé) | The BMJ

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Dr. Megan Johnson McCullough owns a fitness studio in Oceanside CA called Every BODY's Fit. She has a Doctorate in Health and Human Performance, M.A. in Physical Education & Health Science, and she's an NASM Master Trainer & Instructor. She's also a professional natural bodybuilder, fitness model, Wellness Coach, and AFAA Group Exercise Instructor. She has 6 books on Amazon too,.