In today’s fast pace world, more and more people are consuming processed foods worldwide without adequate knowledge on its disadvantages. Statistics shows that there is a reduction in the consumption of whole organic foods. Scientific data has shown links between processed foods and health problems such as Obesity, High Blood Pressure, High Cholesterol, Diabetes to name a few.
The definition of what constitutes a processed food can vary slightly, processed foods applies to any food that has been altered from its natural state in some way, either for safety reasons or convenience to extend its shelf life. Processed foods aren’t just microwave meals, but also refer to foods that are packaged in boxes, cans, jars or bags.
Food processing techniques include freezing, canning, baking, drying and pasteurising products. In addition to going through many complex processing steps, processed foods often contain additives, artificial flavourings and other chemical ingredients.
Processed foods have ingredients that are high in salt, sugar; fructose syrup and fat. These ingredients are added to processed foods to make their flavour more appealing and to prolong their shelf life, or in some cases to contribute to the food’s structure.
These foods are higher in calories due to the high amounts of added sugar or fat in them. Sugar is empty calories; it has no essential nutrients, but produces a large amount of energy. By nature, our appetite gravitates toward foods that are sweet, salty and fatty because these are the foods we need for survival, however, this results in people consuming more than the recommended amounts, because they are unaware of how much has been added to the foods.
Processed foods are extremely low in nutrients compared to whole foods. In many cases, synthetic vitamins and minerals are added to the foods to compensate for what was lost during processing. These synthetic nutrients are not to be compared to those found in whole foods.
Processed foods are high in trans-fat, which raises the level of cholesterol in the blood. Elevated levels of cholesterol increase the chances of developing cardiovascular disease. In addition, processed foods tend to be low in fibre and require less time and energy to digest.
Nutrition information on food labels is an important source of nutritional information but it typically underutilised by consumers. Adequate knowledge on the ingredients will save a lot of individuals from health challenges. By looking at the ingredient list on a product, it is easy to determine whether a food is high in fat, trans-fat, sugar or salt
These are guidelines that show if a food is high or low in fat, trans-fat, salt or sugar:
High: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g ; Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g
High: more than 5g of trans-fat per 100g ; Low: 1.5g of trans-fat or less per 100g
High: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g ; Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g
High: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium) ; Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)
For example, if you are trying to cut down on trans- fat, try to limit the amount of foods you eat that have more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g.
The best way to approach a healthy, balanced diet is as simple as swapping processed foods for whole foods. The body runs most efficiently on food that is in its natural form, or very close to it. Processed foods means the body has to work harder to do its job. People have thrived on vegetables, meat, eggs, fruits and other whole foods for centuries, while processed foods are a new phenomenon. If we make the body’s job easier, it will make our lives easier.
- The Guardian