What are Processed Foods?
Processed foods are foods that have been compromised by the addition of hormones, additives, preservatives, unnatural genetic material or other chemical or heat treatments that alter or destroy the natural healthy enzymes, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals.
The main goal of food processing is to lengthen the shelf life of foods so that larger amounts can be sold over time.
In contrast, whole foods are simple and basic. Whole foods need no processing - they are ready to eat off the vine or off the fire; whole foods age as you and I do, and they must be eaten when fresh.
A List of Processed Food
Ever notice that the sources of the ingredients in processed foods are shrouded in mystery? Food manufacturers even patent some of the processing methods they use. For example, the process for making Splenda, an artificial sweetener, is a big secret and patented with the US Government.
Seems to me that if you have to keep the process for how a food is made a big secret, it probably means that if most people knew the process, they wouldn't eat the food.
Here’s a short list of some common processed foods (most have very long shelf lives):
As a general rule, processed food has been changed extensively from its raw state. I've developed a scale which can help you figure out the extent of processing, and make it easier to decide on healthy food choices.
Other Less Obvious Processed Foods to Avoid
Processed foods are made for convenience and long shelf life, and real nutrition gets short-changed in the methods used to create these foods.The relationship between processed food and health is not a beneficial one.
On top of the loss of nutrition during the manufacturing process, most convenience foods recommend using a microwave oven to prepare them, which further deteriorates the nutritional values.
What are food additives? They are substances that food manufacturers add to a wide range of foods to preserve the flavor or improve the taste and appearance of processed foods. They are common to foods which require long shelf lives, and are used widely in "diet" foods which need the flavor boost.
Some additives come from natural sources, but some are highly process substances derived from unhealthy sources such as coal tar and peroxide.
Here's a sobering factoid for you: it is estimated that nearly 75% of the processed junk foods found in your local grocery store contain corn, soybean or canola ingredients which have been engineered from genetically modified organisms. This includes bakery products, salad dressings, corn products, baby food, infant formula and other products.
In addition, vegetables like tomatoes and potatoes are being genetically modified as well. That's another good reason to grow your own vegetables. And just recently, the biotech companies have applied to genetically alter fish.
The damaging health effects of these foods is well known in relation to the animal kingdom.
Now all of this information is by no means "scientific". But common sense tells me that if cows won't eat genetically engineered food crops, and insects die after interacting with these food crops, it would be wise to avoid them as much as possible.
The human body did not evolve eating these technological foods, and the negative health results have been documented in studies.
Remember that by avoiding processed junk foods, you will automatically avoid most genetically engineered foods.
It is not my intention to make the case that junk food is evil or is to be avoided at all costs.
In some cases, food processing is beneficial in that it helps neutralize the natural toxins in food before they are consumed.
Sometimes you just want to eat something because you like the taste, and eating a little processed food now and then won't have a great effect on your overall health. The human body is pretty resilient.
However, a continuous diet of only junk food will certainly have an effect on your well being and your long term risk of disease.
Foods such as pastured, grass fed meats, eggs and poultry, fresh organic vegetables and fruit, wild caught seafood, tropical oils, clean, raw diary products and properly prepared nuts and grains support the growth and maintenance of your muscles and organs.
Stick with these types of foods for the majority of your meals, and you’ll go a long way toward avoiding the health problems associated with non-nutritive, processed junk foods.
Resources for Further Reading
More About Processed Food Dangers