They’re convenient, they taste good, and they’re bad for you. While processed foods might seem like a great solution when you simply don’t have the time to prepare a meal from scratch, they can wreak havoc with your health.
First, let me explain what I mean by processed foods. Most foods we eat today are processed to some degree, and this is often a good thing. Some level of processing often enables foods to be transported more efficiently, used more easily in the kitchen and sold more cheaply. For example, you might describe coconut flour as a processed food, simply because it has been processed and altered from its original form.
However, there are much less beneficial forms of processing, and unfortunately they have become widespread in today’s agricultural and food industries. Foods like white bread, packaged ham, and cake mix are typically so heavily processed and refined that they barely even qualify for the label ‘food’. This type of processing is often known as ‘tertiary’ processing, the stage of the food production process when most commercial value is added to a product and it ends up furthest from its original form.
The Additives In Processed Foods
The problem with many of today’s processed foods is that they’re overly processed. Processing coconut into coconut flour might completely change the way it looks, but chemically it is still much the same. However, many commercially processed foods have so many additives, that the taste, flavor, texture, and nutritional value are completely different from its original form. These foods are all on our list of foods to avoid.
When additives are used to supplement the nutritional value of the food, for instance by fortifying foods or drinks with added vitamins and minerals, this might not be a bad thing. The problem, however, is that many of the additives in highly processed foods don’t do anything to make the food more nutritious. They’re simply there to add taste, make the food look more attractive, or increase its shelf life. This in itself isn’t a bad thing, except that many of these additives are very hazardous to your health. Commonly used phosphates, for instance, can damage your kidneys and weaken your bones. For a list of common food additives, how they affect your health, and which ones you should avoid, see http://www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm.
Keep in mind that many of these additives have been poorly researched. Studies funded by interested parties have been proven to show bias over time, and the unfortunate fact is that the food industry finances much of the research that is conducted into these chemicals. In other words, a chemical additive that seems harmless today may well be condemned as unhealthy in the future.
The Salt Issue
A common ingredient in many processed foods is salt. We all need salt, which consists of sodium and chloride. Sodium helps regulate your body’s pH levels, blood pressure, and hydration. It also helps your body to absorb other nutrients and helps keep your heartbeat regular. Chloride helps to fight off infections and helps your body to digest minerals like potassium. It’s also essential for getting carbon dioxide to your lungs so that it can be expelled from your body.
However, many processed foods contain much more salt than is necessary. Adults need no more than 6 grams of salt per day while children should eat even less. (For guidelines about salt and sodium intake, see http://www.cdc.gov/salt/). Often you’ll find an alarming amount of salts in foods that you never expected would contain any, like soft drinks for example. A large serving of a carbonated soft drink can contain as much as 100 mg of sodium. This doesn’t sound like much, until you start adding up all the sodium you get from other foods and drinks you consume during the day.
Americans consume an average of between 4,000 and 5,000 mg of sodium per day. This is far more than the recommended adult maximum of 2,300 mg. Too much salt increases your intake of sodium and increases your risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, the salt used in processed food doesn’t have the extra nutritional value and trace minerals provided by better options like Himalayan sea salt.
What About Nutritional Value?
While fortifying processed foods with vitamins and minerals can add to their nutritional value, many processing methods actually destroy certain nutrients. For example, freezing and heating both destroy Vitamin C. And heat processing also destroys the healthy ‘good bacteria’ that would otherwise be living in fermented foods like yogurt.
Processing may destroy the fiber in your foods too. You need fiber for a healthy digestive system, and to prevent imbalances from occurring in your gut like Candida overgrowth. You may find that many processed foods claim on the label that they contain added fiber. This isn’t really a lie, but what the labels don’t tell you is that the added fiber often comes in the form of wood cellulose. This might sound natural, but it is actually refined using heat, acids, and other chemicals to extract it from the wood. The best way to ensure you eat enough fiber is to eat plenty of fresh vegetables, especially raw ones.
How To Avoid Processed Foods
It’s not always that easy to avoid processed foods. After all, who has the time or energy after a long day at work to chop up vegetables? However, if you’re serious about improving your digestive health and regaining your vitality, you should consider devoting at least some of your day to making sure you eat more healthily.
If you have to eat commercially made foods, check the labels carefully to see what they contain. If the label doesn’t give you the information you need, look online for an independent analysis. Try to buy organic brands that contain as few ingredients as possible (and definitely no added sugar). Remember that the longer the list of ingredients, the more harmful the product is likely to be to your health.
The best option is to do it yourself. For example, buy your fresh vegetables in bulk, then go home and wash, peel or chop them as needed. You can also make soups, curries or other dishes that you can freeze and reheat as needed. It’s also very easy to make your own nut butters.
The advantage of doing it yourself is that you can control what goes into the food. It’s up to you, after all, to decide how much sugar, salt and additives you want to consume, and whether you really need your food to be luminous orange!
If you’d like more tips on how a healthy low-sugar diet full of whole foods can improve your digestive health, take a look at our Ultimate Candida Diet program. This protocol, which I created with Dr. Eric Wood, contains everything you need to know to restore balance to your digestive system, and regain your health and vitality. Find out more about the program here.