Remember cheese in a can? You know, the stuff that you squirt on crackers? It’s kind of novel. Maybe you tried it once and maybe you couldn’t get enough of it once you did try it. Welcome to the addictive nature of processed foods. Since that flirtation with cheese in a can, you’ve probably realized the stuff is not really cheese. It’s got more of those unpronounceable, unrecognizable ingredients in it than those you do recognize, right?
Highly processed foods, the ones with all those multi-syllabic ingredients, are typically high in sugar and sodium with added chemicals masquerading as ingredients. If you haven’t read the labels on your food closely, you may be shocked to find out there’s sugar in spaghetti sauce and sodium in soda. These foods also often contain trans fats, which lower your good cholesterol while raising the bad cholesterol. Trans fats are also known to contribute to inflammation, which has all kinds of health implications. (On a positive note, the FDA recently announced that it is asking manufacturers to phase out the use of trans fats over the next three years.)
Highly processed foods are also lower in fiber, which means it takes less work for our bodies to digest them – meaning you’ll get hungry faster, then consume more calories, leading to the inevitable weight gain. (Sigh.) Not only do these foods – from boxed mac n’ cheese to breakfast cereal to fast food – contain a lot of what we don’t need and only a little of what we do need, they are designed to make you want to eat more. In his mind-blowing 2013 article for The New York Times magazine, journalist Michael Moss uncovered what he called “a conscious effort – taking place in labs and marketing meetings and grocery-store aisles – to get people hooked on foods that are convenient and inexpensive.”
Once consumers are caught up in the vicious cycle of eating highly processed foods, it can be really difficult to part ways. These foods are seductively easy to prepare, just rip open the package and devour in many cases. And they are engineered to reach what’s called the “bliss point” – an optimal combination of flavor and texture that leaves us wanting more. Furthermore, highly processed foods are also cheap, which convinces shoppers they are getting more for their money than buying fresh produce and meat – but the hidden cost is to their health. Obesity has been linked to fast-food consumption; sugar has a laundry list of reasons why it’s bad for us; too much sodium is linked to high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, and the list goes on.
The moral of the story: Do you best to buy minimally processed foods and read labels. You’ll be doing your body a favor and reaping the benefits in a healthier you.