Why should I avoid processed foods?

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Stefanie Sacks, MS
Nutrition & Dietetics
Processed foods are not the ideal choice as they typically contain multiple ingredients, many of which can be concerning, like too much sugar (and/or artificial sweeteners), salt, hydrogenated oils, artificial colors (food dye) and flavors. While consuming some processed foods is necessary for most people, aim for those with only 5-7 ingredients and be sure that what you choose comes from real food. In other words, do you understand what each ingredient is? Food Scores Database by the Environmental Working Group is a great smartphone app to help you navigate choice.  
What the Fork Are You Eating?: An Action Plan for Your Pantry and Plate

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What the Fork Are You Eating?: An Action Plan for Your Pantry and Plate

It's labeled "natural," "grass-fed," or "free-roaming;" yet it might be anything but. It's time to find out what you're actually eating... When your groceries are labeled “low-fat,” “sugar-free,” and even “natural” and "antibiotic-free," it’s easy to assume that you’re making healthy choices. Yet even some of those seemingly wholesome offerings contain chemical preservatives, pesticides, and artificial flavors and coloring that negatively affect your health. In What the Fork Are You Eating?, a practical guide written by certified chef and nutritionist Stefanie Sacks, MS, CNS, CDN, we learn exactly what the most offensive ingredients in our food are and how we can remove (or at least minimize) them in our diets. Sacks gives us an aisle-by-aisle rundown of how to shop for healthier items and create simple, nutritious, and delicious meals, including fifty original recipes.  
Cindy Gay
Nutrition & Dietetics
Processed foods tend to have more additives that do not contribute to a healthy diet. Sugar and salt are frequently added to foods that could taste as good or better if prepared with less. Some fiber and nutrient content are lost in the processing. It's very difficult to avoid all processed foods. Preparing a meal with fresh fruits and vegetables and a homemade entree allows some room for processed foods like bread and milk. It is especially difficult to keep sodium below the Dietary Guideline of 1500 mg/day if many processed foods are included in the diet.
Deb Kennedy, PhD
Nutrition & Dietetics
The purpose of food is to nourish you. With today's food supply, what we eat can either take us in the direction of health or away from it. Processed foods are amateurs and imposters compared to the real thing: food straight from nature. 

Processed foods are like putting bad gas in your car! Most consumers do not realize that "live food" (unprocessed) has important vitamins and enzymes that are destroyed in their processing. The result is the consumption of empty calories with additives, many of which have a long "rap sheet" of adverse effects on the body. With the debate on the spiraling costs of healthcare (or "disease-care"), it's time we start treating the cause instead of the symptoms. As a dentist, I am very concerned with what patients put into their mouths first before treating the symptoms and the "fallout."

Rose Reisman
Nutrition & Dietetics

Processed food including fast food, packaged and frozen meals are one of the key reasons for obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart and stroke epidemic. But we can’t often resist because they’re tasty, inexpensive and convenient. So what’s so bad about processed foods?

  • Most contain excess sodium, fat, trans fats, calories and sugar.
  • They’re often nutrient deficient and have toxic ingredients.
  • The additives that enhance flavor and extend shelf life actually alters your taste buds so you develop an addiction to fat, sugar and salt.
  • There may be hidden ingredients that are not labeled, especially when coming from other countries where labeling is not required.
  • Processed foods are often over packaged which put strains on our environment.
  • Processed foods increase childhood obesity, decreasing their life span as well as increasing our health care budgets.

Examples of processed foods:

  • Processed nuts are high in sodium and often contain MSG.
  • Fat free ice cream needs thickening agents which gives a processed texture and flavor and often is not less calories since more sugar is added to enhance flavor.
  • Diet supermarket foods contain excess salt for flavor.
  • Processed chicken in fast food and frozen products is often cooked in a high sodium marinade and often injected with a sodium solution to keep the meat moist.
  • Boxed grains with flavored packages such as rice or couscous have excess sodium.
  • Fat free cottage cheese contains excess salt to obtain the curds and whey consistency.

White empty carbs, fried foods, processed cheese, sugar beverages and desserts are all loaded with calories, sugar and fats.

Ms. Ashley Koff, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics
All the tools our bodies need to function optimally and efficiently (read: produce and utilize energy) can be found in foods. We need food to live, to maintain the structure and function of our cells, and to support and fuel the systems that keep us going strong -- immune, digestive, respiratory, circulatory, and so on. But some foods can have little to none of the nutrients we need, so when we eat nutrient-poor foods, we ask the body to work with fewer resources. When we provide nutrient-poor food and chemicals, then we ask the body to not only do its daily work with fewer resources, but we also ask it to combat additional challenges.

We are starting to see research that indicates this may be a recipe for disease. Regardless, we know that it's a recipe for imbalanced energy, which tips our metaphorical scale in favor of burnout, premature fatigue, careless mistakes, and confusion. Put another way, when we perpetually consume nutrient-poor foods and beverages filled with harmful impersonators such as hydrogenated trans fats, saturated fats, and refined sugars -- topped with preservatives, additives, and artificial flavors and colors -- we set ourselves up for downgrading our energy metabolism and, in turn, our health.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.