Processing food simply means to alter it in some way, whether that be by cooking, baking, frying, canning, freezing, grinding…you get the picture. Not all processing is harmful. When we can or freeze, for example, we can extend the life of food while still maintaining the nutrients and freshness.
However, we have taken that to the extreme so that processing food now involves complex methods and added ingredients to create convenient food in packages that we can simply throw in the microwave or eat directly from the box. The food that falls into the latter category is often stripped of nutrients and contains added ingredients such as salt, sugar, artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. This is the harmful processed food that I advocate against.
In Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, he provides a great explanation of what processing food does to the end product:
The germ contains some of the most valuable nutrients in flour, including protein, folic acid, B vitamins, carotenes, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids. Prior to the industrialization of food, flour was created by grinding wheat between big stone wheels, crushing the germ and releasing it’s oils. The result was yellow flour with a fowl smell, which was nutritious but turned people off. The creation of rollers made it possible to remove the germ all together and grind the wheat exceptionally fine, solving the problem of color and odor but resulting in a product that was nutritionally worthless.
This was the birth of one of the main staples of the Western diet and was marketed on the basis of image (fluffy white powder) rather than nutritional value. Not far behind wheat was corn and rice, industrialization leading to the most nutritious parts of the food being removed. As these new technologies became more widespread, so did disease. The lack of B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids in our diets led to outbreaks of pellagra and beriberi.
What use to be staple foods have become the source of illness and disease. Many processed food turns straight to sugar when consumed. They often contain unhealthy levels of sodium, sugar, and unhealthy fats which lead to many of today’s top killers: Heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and the list goes on.
Not only did we take vegetables and process them but meat has fallen victim as well. Processed meats include ham, lunch meat, pepperoni, salami, hotdogs, sausage, canned meat, among others. Chemicals and preservatives are often added to extend the shelf life and additional “parts” of the animal are sometimes included so the product can be produced at a lower cost.
Our bodies don’t know what to do with all of these foreign ingredients. These artificial additives can’t be used by our cells, they aren’t providing the essential nutrients needed to carry out the necessary functions that sustain life…our life. Research is even pointing towards the possibility that the chemicals found in processed food may be causing cancer. A WebMD article from 2018 discusses the correlation between processed food and cancer. According to the article, “Every 10% dietary increase in packaged snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals and other highly processed foods boosts the risk for cancer by 12%… Breast cancer, in particular, was associated with greater consumption of mass-produced, ultra-processed foods, according to the study.”
It’s not just your favorite bag of chips or box of twinkies that contain these harmful ingredients. It’s also pantry staples that many of us eat and feed our families on a daily basis. What we once thought of as convenience items may actually be slowly poisoning us. The same WebMD study found that “In several developed countries, ultra-processed foods may make up as much as 50% of the daily diet”.
I urge you, please, read the ingredient list on the food that you purchase. If it contains items that you can’t pronounce, you’ve never heard of or that aren’t food, put it back. There are alternative choices from responsible companies that make real food. Please, eat the real food.
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