In an ideal world, we would all use fresh ingredients for all our meals and prepare everything from scratch. Unfortunately, in today’s world, most people live such busy, fast-paced lives that it is not easy to find time to eat a meal in peace, much less make something that can sometimes take hours. The effort and time constraints are the main reasons most of us turn to processed foods when it’s time to put something together for the family.
What Is Processed Food?
Most of the food that we consume has undergone some form of processing, whether it is cutting fruit from the tree or turning milk-cream into butter and ghee by churning it. These types of processing are a mechanical type, where no other ingredients are added, and the food is simply broken down or given another form.
The other type of processing is a chemical type, where food has added preservatives that prolong its shelf life. These contain many artificial and refined ingredients. When the term ‘processed food’ is spoken of in general, it is often about food that has undergone chemical processing.
Reasons to Avoid Processed Foods
Here are a few disadvantages of processed food that should motivate you to avoid them:
1. Low Calorie Burn
A study has shown that those who consumed whole foods burned more calories, and those who consumed processed foods burned fewer calories. This is because the fibre that enables the body to consume more energy while digesting it is removed.
2. High in Unhealthy Fats
Oils that are refined and rich in Omega 6-fatty acids are used while processing food. This can cause inflammation and oxidation in the body.
3. Low in Real Nutrients
While the ingredients are being processed, many important nutrients are lost, and to replace them, synthetic nutrients are often added. These are not the same as having the benefits of the real nutrients that come directly from the food itself.
4. Low in Fibre
Fibre that is soluble and can be fermented is very good for health, but sadly, most of it is removed during processing. This may be done intentionally or unintentionally.
The effects of processed foods on the body is to be noted as there is a lot of dopamine released when processed food is consumed, and it is as addictive as drugs to some people.
6. High in Refined Carbohydrates
While carbohydrates can be good for us, the simple carbohydrates that processed food contains are usually refined. This can have negative effects on your blood sugar and insulin and are bad for health in general.
7. Designed for Overconsumption
Those involved in the business of manufacturing food have to battle against many competitors in the market. This is why many of them have turned to using science to make food as appealing and as rewarding to your systems as possible, leading to over-consumption.
8. Full of Artificial Ingredients
Processed food is full of artificial ingredients that enhance the flavour or look of the food. They contain flavourings, artificial colour, texturants and preservatives.
9. Rich in Fructose Corn Syrup and Sugar
High fructose corn syrup and refined sugar are two ingredients that are loaded with sugar. This is not good for health because sugar is energy without any nutrients. If it is consumed in excess, it can lead to serious health issues.
List of Processed Food You Should Avoid
Here is a list of processed foods to avoid and healthy alternatives for them:
|Processed Foods to Avoid||Healthy Alternatives|
|Ketchup: Ketchup is not just made with tomatoes; it is also loaded with sugar and is a very addictive ingredient.||Chutneys: Chutneys are often made with vegetables, dals and other healthy and whole ingredients that are blended into a paste-like texture. This is the perfect replacement for ketchup and has the benefit of coming with a different flavours depending on what you feel like preparing. They can be used in the same way as ketchup and can be used to make sandwiches or as a dip.|
|Marinades: It may be easier to pick up packets of readymade marinade masalas for your meats, but these are often loaded with preservatives and other ingredients you should not be consuming in excess of.||Make Your Own: It is not very difficult to make your own marinade, even for exotic dishes like chicken tikka masala or butter chicken. Once you have assembled your ingredients, you simply need to blend everything up. There are also many recipes that do not require the use of blending or fancy masala marinades, so you may want to opt for those rather than buying the processed marinade packets.|
|Two Minute Noodles: There are many different varieties of processed noodles that come in a packet with sachets of masala mixes and flavourings. These are very bad for health as they contain bad fats, high content of MSG and salt and are made of maida, which is refined flour.||Whole Grain Pasta: Since processed noodles are often chosen for their speed and need for fewer dishes and steps, you can opt for cooking your regular noodles in the same way. Choose whole grain pasta noodles and cook it with your broth in a one-pot cooking style. The result will be as comforting and quick as adding vegetables to a two minute noodle packet.|
|Breakfast Cereal: While they are marketed as healthy, breakfast cereals are filled with way too much sugar and are bad for your health in the long run.||Homemade Cereal Mix: Mix together some whole grains for fibre like oats, bran or quinoa, nuts and dried fruits and maybe even some coconut if you have it. You could even replace your cereal habit by simply having a bowl of yogurt fruit salad, where you chop up some fruits and mix it together with yogurt.|
|Margarine: Margarine is processed to taste and look like butter. It is made with vegetable oil, and it goes through the hydrogenation process, which will end up increasing the amount of trans fats.||Butter: Use real butter instead, since it is just churned milk cream.|
|Fruit Juices: Fruit juices are very bad for health despite how healthy they sound. Packaged fruit juice often has the fibre removed, making the assimilation of sugar faster.||Water or Smoothies: Either stick to drinking water to quench your thirst, or if you feel like you need something more in your drink, opt for a smoothie. Choose fruits like berries, pears and don’t forget to add green veggies.|
|Salad Dressing: Store-bought salad dressing is full of added chemicals, sugars and unhealthy trans fats.||Make Your Own: There are many simple salad dressing recipes that you can find online that make use of healthy ingredients.|
|Maida: Avoid anything that contains refined flour since the endosperm of wheat germ and wheat bran is removed during the refining process. This is what makes the grains good for our bodies.||Whole Wheat or Multigrain: Whole wheat or multigrain flour is much healthier and provides the health benefits that wheat is known for.|
|White Rice: The refining process removes all the important nutrients from the grains of rice, making it high in carbohydrates and starch.||Brown Rice: Brown rice contains the bran, germ and endosperm, all of which provide health benefits to the body.|
|Processed Meats: Meats like frozen burgers, nuggets, salami, bacon and other meats that are processed are known to increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 18%.||Fresh Meat: Consuming fresh meats are a healthier option than adding processed meats to your diet.|
Tips to Choose Healthier Alternatives
Here are some tips that you can find useful when looking out for highly processed foods:
1. Choose Whole Grains
Whether it is for choosing rice, bread or flour, whole grain is always the best way to go since it contains more nutrients than refined white rice.
2. Snack on Fruits, Nuts or Seeds
Snacking on fresh fruits, nuts and seeds is a great way to keep yourself satiated, satisfy your sweet tooth, while also giving to the benefits of the healthy nutrients and fats that they contain.
3. Use Leftovers Instead of Processed Meats
Rather than making your sandwiches using processed meats, try using the leftovers from your dinner or previous meal. These are faster than buying foods such as salami and ham. Using minced meat to make your burgers is also a good way to go.
4. Read the Ingredients List
Always check the list of ingredients to make sure that there are either no preservatives or very few additional components such as flavourings, food colouring and other chemical ingredients.
5. Make Sure Your Plate Is Colourful
One of the best ways to make sure that you are choosing healthy alternatives is to make sure that your plate is colourful with fresh ingredients.
Here is a frequently asked question about processed foods:
What Are Ultra-processed Foods?
Foods that contain all the extra additives like hydrogenated oils, emulsifiers, artificial flavours, colouring, and many other ingredients are ultra-processed foods. Many of these ingredients are ones we don’t recognise or would never use to cook with while cooking from scratch. Most of these are chemical components that are used to increase the shelf life of the product.
Despite the bad reputation, it has to be said that not all processed foods are bad. For example, milk is healthier for consumption after being processed, making it a necessity in some cases. So while it may not be possible to stop consuming processed foods completely, make sure to cut out the most harmful ones.