Processed foods are any foods that have been altered from their natural state in some way, either for convenience, safety or taste. This means that you may be eating more processed food than you realize. Basically, anything that you don't cook yourself or anything that is prepared in some way when you purchase it, is considered processed food. Anything that comes in a package, like chips and cereal, is a processed food. Some products may need to be extensively processed to be edible and are not found in nature.
What counts as processed food?
Most store-bought foods will have been processed in some way. Examples of common processed foods include: breakfast cereals, cheese, bread, potato chips, microwaveable meals, snack cakes and sodas. Hot dogs and lunch meat are processed foods. So are frozen pizzas.
Canned vegetables and meat products such as bacon are also processed foods. Canned foods aren't as fresh as natural fruits and vegetables. Processing techniques include baking, canning, drying and freezing. Keep in mind, however, that not all processed food is bad. What this means is that some foods need to be processed to make them safe or they do offer some nutritional value. For example, milk needs to be pasteurized to remove harmful bacteria. Other safe processed foods to eat are canned vegetables, hummus and yogurt. These foods do offer some nutritional value. You should only cut back on the bad processed foods, foods like snack cakes and potato chips.
Why are most processed foods unhealthy?
Most processed foods contain empty calories. Empty calories offer little to no nutritional value. Processed foods are also considered simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are the unhealthy carbs. The more processed a food is, the more additives and fewer nutrients it will have. Processing removes most of the fiber, minerals and vitamins in most foods. Processing then adds chemicals, unhealthy fats, a lot of sugar or sugar substitutes, tons of salt and synthetic minerals and vitamins. Most of these ingredients (artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils) are not recognized as edible by your body. These ingredients are considered toxins and most will be stored as fat in the body. Processed foods often have a lot of calories and fat in them. So they can contribute to weight gain. Processed foods can also be addicting.
Processed foods seem convenient because they save time for busy people who don't have time to cook or want to cook. Most processed foods are also low-cost. They can be addictive. However, we need to be aware of the health costs of processed food. Most processed foods have been linked to heart disease and cancer. When you eat too many sugary foods, you can get diabetes. In order to eliminate most processed foods from your diet, you need to come up with healthy alternatives. A good example is making your own pizza using fresh ingredients. Find healthy substitutes.