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 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 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 shortlist of some common processed foods (most have very long shelf lives):
- White wheat flour, especially bleached white flour
- Refined sugars (crystalline fructose, maltodextrin, dextrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, maple syrup, date sugar, cane sugar, brown rice syrup, corn sugar, beet sugar, agave syrup, etc..)
- Margarine and other hydrogenated vegetable fats
- Refined vegetable oils
- Artificial sweeteners
- Food additives
- Canned foods
- Boxed foods such as meal mixes, cereal, and pasta
- Soft drinks and sugary “fruit” drinks, which are loaded with white sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, flavors, and other food additives.
- Fast food, which is a source of trans fats
- Cheese food, packaged cakes and cookies, chips, snack food crackers, and other junk food
- Processed meat products (sausage, bologna, bacon, packaged ham, and salami) if they contain artificial colors and soy fillers.
- Frozen foods such as tv dinner meals, fish sticks, pizza rolls, and similar foods
- Soy products such as soy milk, soy cheese, soy protein isolate, and other processed soy foods. Natural soybeans taste horrible; it’s Nature’s way of warning about the dangers of soy. In order to make soy products edible, soy manufacturers have to add large amounts of sugar, MSG and other flavorings and spices.
- Powdered milk and eggs: Commercial milk powders contain oxysterols (oxidized cholesterol) in high amounts. The oxysterol free radicals have been suspected of being initiators of atherosclerotic plaques. Powdered eggs contain even more oxysterols.
As a general rule, processed food has been changed extensively from its raw state. I’ve developed a scale that 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
- Avoid non-organic pasteurized, homogenized milk and the products made from it. Many commercial dairy farms inject their dairy cows with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), which is made from genetically modified organisms. It increases the production of milk but also sickens the cows, increasing udder infections and lameness by 40-55%.
The use of rBGH has been banned in Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and every other industrialized nation except the United States.
The proteins in pasteurized milk have been altered from the high heat applied, and the beneficial digestive enzymes and vitamins have been destroyed. Without the beneficial enzymes, milk is a lot harder to digest, and “lactose intolerance” is the result.
- Don’t buy meat, pork, and poultry from commercial factory farms. Here’s why: The animals raised in these factory farms are confined, abused, fed food which makes them sick (genetically modified soybeans and corn, other dead animals, bakery waste, manure, and other sickening things), and many become very ill from this treatment.
They are then injected with bacterial killing drugs, further polluting their flesh. Worse, this reliance on drugs contributes to the development of new and lethal bacteria strains resistant to modern antibiotics. Read this article about the resistant bacteria MSRA being found in commercial pork products. It’s already killed 19,000 people but the FDA is choosing to ignore the problem.
Choose grass-fed, organic meats and chicken instead.
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.
Processed foods also have high levels of food additives. Some are harmless, but there are many that have unwelcome health effects.
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 that require long shelf lives and are used widely in “diet” foods that need the flavor boost.
Some additives come from natural sources, but some 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 that 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 altered fish.
The damaging health effects of these foods is well known in relation to the animal kingdom.
- According to Genetically Engineered Food, a book by Ronnie Cummins and Ben Lilliston, genetically engineered crops kill Monarch butterflies, other beneficial insects, and cause the development of new strains of virulent plant viruses and “super pests”.
- Farmers have reported that if given a choice, cattle will ignore genetically engineered corn in favor or naturally raised corn.
- Dairy cattle get sick when injected with rBGH, a genetically engineered hormone used to increase milk production, and still, this hormone is used widely in the commercial milk industry. Fortunately, many grocery store chains have pledged to avoid selling milk tainted with rBGH. The Center for Food Safety offers a shopping guide to help you choose clean commercial milk and cheese.
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 dairy 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
- 10 Things the Food Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know
- What Factory Farms Feed Dairy Cattle
- Genetically Engineered Food by Ronnie Cummins and Ben Lilliston
- Grist Column on MSRA