Heavily processed foods pose health risks

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Heavily processed foods pose health risks

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After devouring an addicting and salty bag of chips, it may be a surprise to see that its ingredient list is what seems to be an infinite number of unrecognizable names. Processed foods encompass everything from harmless and minimally processed foods to highly processed foods that pose a range of health risks. However, heavily processed foods, as craveable as they can be, harm our health in many ways.

Heavily processed foods weren’t invented until the 1930s, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that they became popular, reflecting the result of the newly invented supermarket: the new idea that every desired food could be acquired in one stop. The rate at which processed foods are consumed has been climbing since then. According to the American Heart Association, processed foods contribute to 50% of calories consumed in America In addition,  a study performed by the University of Chapel-Hill shows that 60% of the food purchased in America is highly processed. Especially because the simplicities technology has brought to altering food according to desire (pesticides, GMOs, etc.) processed foods are readily accessible to most Americans, and can be difficult to resist.

There are a variety of levels of classification for processed foods. According to Dr. Carlos Monteiro, a professor, and researcher at the University of Sao Paulo, at the first level, the food is minimally processed. Essentially, the food has not been modified from its natural state or has undergone small alterations such as freezing, packaging, or cleaning. If anything, minimally processed food helps make food safer to eat. The next level is foods that are altered with ingredients commonly found in a kitchen. This includes alterations such as adding salt and oil to peas. Lastly, there are highly processed foods such as chips, chicken nuggets, and frozen meals. This is the most dangerous level, with highly processed foods posing myriad health risks of depleting the body of needed nutrients and increasing chances of other diseases.

Often, processed foods are made of a long list of foreign ingredients. According to gastroenterologist Dr. Kenneth Brown, these ingredients sometimes even include non-food components, such as bleaching agents or synthetic vitamins. They lack nutrients, which results in unstable digestion after consumption. For instance, sugar rushes occur because the fibers in food that slow down the release of sugar into the bloodstream have been removed from highly processed foods, resulting in frequent blood sugar spikes. Author and professional dietitian Tom Malterre said, “Eating refined, processed foods over time can deplete the body of essential nutrients needed for it to function properly.” Not only does processed food affect overall health, but it can also cause specific health issues. It’s been linked to obesity, heart disease, type two diabetes, anxiety, depression, a rise in allergies, and more.

Most people eat it because the healthier foods, organic foods are usually more expensive, so they look to the cheaper side.”

— Lori Li

Some students at Saint Paul Academy eat processed food because it tastes good and it’s often cheaper than organic and more wholesome foods. “Most people eat it because the healthier foods, organic foods are usually more expensive, so they look to the cheaper side,” said junior Lori Li.

Not only that, but when schoolwork and stress are piling up, it’s often hard to take the time to find nutritious foods. “It’s more accessible to everyone. It’s just more convenient,” said Li.

While highly processed foods can be dangerous in the long term, they aren’t extremely harmful when they haven’t been over-consumed. A great way to decrease processed food intake is to cook at home. This way, all ingredients and processes of cooking are known. Highly processed food, while sometimes addicting, has many health costs, some of which are still being researched.

Originally published in the November 2018 edition of The Rubicon.