What is Processed Food?

It is not:

  • whole food
  • food close to its natural state
  • made from scratch

It is:

  • food products
  • industrial food
  • foods with more than five ingredients
  • full of fat, sugar, and salt
  • contributing to the obesity epidemic.

But What about:

  • refined grains
  • cereal, white rice, bread
  • vegetable oil
  • agave syrup
  • bacon

When using the phrase to help us determine the nutritional quality or healthfulness of food, it is important to cast a wide net, but also to be specific. What is it about processed foods that impairs our health? We know that our bodies are overwhelmed by excessive quantities of processed ingredients:

  • sugar wears out the pancreas by requiring excessive insulin
  • sugar increases chronic inflammation
  • salt raises blood pressure (in some) and impairs kidney function
  • some fats increases cholesterol levels and heart disease risk
  • sugar and fat contribute to weight gain and possibly cravings
  • food additives are associated with weight gain, intestinal disease, and chronic inflammation

None of these nutrients cause health problems in small quantities. So the amount that you eat matters. Here’s where the real health problem with processed food arises: by some estimates, the average U.S. adult eats 60% of their calories from processed foods. The result? 1 in 3 of us has a metabolic disorder and unhealthy amounts of body fat leading to diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and some cancers.

We don’t need to think of processed foods as toxic, we do need to think of the amount of processed foods we eat as toxic over time. One helpful idea is to try and avoid highly processed foods, this allows for foods like bread and vegetable oil. Here are some tips to identify highly processed foods and reduce your intake:

  • Use the ingredient list – the longer the list the more processed the food
  • Ingredients you can’t pronounce or don’t know
  • Sugar is in the first three ingredients
  • Foods you couldn’t make at home
  • Low fat packaged foods
  • Shop the periphery of the grocery stores
  • Cook more

I will leave you with a quote from Dr Gregor from NutritionFacts.org who defines unprocessed food as “nothing good taken away, nothing bad added”.

How do you determine if a food is too processed for you? Let us know!

Happy eating,


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