In a society where Americans spend a lot of time rushing around, there is a sense that we need to save ourselves even the smallest amount of time. When it comes to food and nutrition, the most common shortcut Americans take is purchasing and consuming processed foods.
Though this undoubtedly saves a substantial amount of time and money in the long-term, there are serious health concerns associated with this behavior. Below, we will review what processed foods are, the nutritional implications of consuming processed foods, and health conditions that may develop as a result.
Overview of Processed Foods
Generally speaking, processed foods are any food products that have had their ingredients chemically altered or include additional ingredients that have been added for the purpose of preservation.
For the most part, any food items in your pantry or refrigerator whose recipes can only be fulfilled in a laboratory setting are definitely considered processed foods. Additionally, foods loaded with sugar, oil, and salt as a method of preservation may also be considered processed, though to a lesser extent.
Nutritional Value of Processed Foods
Most processed foods have very similar ingredients that pose major health concerns when it comes to eating a balanced diet. When processed foods are consumed in excess, this can prove detrimental to your nutritional intake.
Processed foods tend to be high in the following ingredients and nutrients:
● Complex carbohydrates
● High fructose corn syrup
● Trans fats
● Total calories
● Artificial ingredients
Processed foods tend to be low in the following ingredients and nutrients:
● Healthy fats
● Natural ingredients
In moderation, the intake of these nutrients and ingredients should not pose much of a concern in normally healthy individuals. However, if you’re entirely replacing natural food sources with processed foods, the end result will be a high consumption of unhealthy nutrients and low consumption of healthy nutrients.
Development of Physical Health Conditions
The over-consumption and under-consumption of nutrients can both have negative health consequences if these patterns continue long-term. Here are some possible effects that may occur.
When sodium is consumed in larger amounts, it has the potential to affect the functioning of your heart and the state of your body’s composition. The specific effects that sodium may have on the cardiovascular system include increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of stroke and heart attack. In excess, sodium may also cause water retention, which could eventually increase your body weight and cause greater strain on your cardiovascular system.
Blood Sugar Levels
Too much sugar, complex carbohydrates, and high fructose corn syrup can significantly impact your body’s ability to maintain appropriate blood sugar levels. When your blood sugar levels become unstable, you may develop Type 2 Diabetes and experience reduced energy levels.
Perhaps the greatest concern to Americans is the effects these foods may have on body weight and body fat. If your entire diet consists of processed foods that are filled with salt, sugar, trans fats, and carbohydrates, you’ll undoubtedly gain weight, increase your body fat, and head toward a level of obesity.
Other Side Effects
When you replace healthy foods with processed foods, you’re missing out on naturally-occurring vitamins and minerals. Though some processed foods include artificially-produced vitamins and minerals, these are not nearly as beneficial as the actual thing. Each vitamin and mineral plays a vital role in the body and limited consumption of any combination of micronutrients can lead to health conditions like osteoporosis, muscular weakness, reduced immunity, and issues with blood clotting, among many more.
Development of Poor Eating Habits
When a person’s diet consists mostly of processed foods, the addition of ingredients like sugar and salt poses a risk for addiction, cravings, and the development of unhealthy eating habits. With that said, the risks attached to eating processed foods go much further than the moment you physically consume the meal.
Cravings have the ability to severely affect the current state of your health. When you experience a craving, you’ll find yourself in a position where you’re consuming food “just because,” not because you’re actually hungry.
In the long-term, poor eating habits that involve processed foods can begin to affect you emotionally, physically, mentally, and even socially. You’re essentially setting yourself up for long-term health consequences by attempting to save a little time by eating processed foods.
The Bottom Line
Everybody knows that processed foods are bad for health, but not many people actually understand the implications associated with eating processed foods. Overconsumption of these foods can result in major health consequences and a poorly balanced diet, both of which have the potential to severely affect the course of your life.In addition to cutting processed foods out of your diet and practice mindful eating habits, consistent exercise is also important.
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