What Makes Processed Foods So Bad

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I’ve criticized processed foods many times, yet I haven’t really gone into too much detail about why they’re so bad. Some people still don’t even know what they are (which is surprising)! That’s why, for today’s post, I’m going to be answering two simple questions. What are processed foods, and what makes them bad? At the end of the day, I want to empower you with the right information to help you make the best decisions. Although you can take this information however you’d like it, you’ll at least be aware of the nature of these foods. Ready or not, it’s time to get started! 

Processed Foods 101

Any time you take food and change it during preparation or manufacture, it becomes a processed food. Now, here’s where things get tricky. Because yes, on a technical level, not all processed foods are bad.

Processing includes canning, freezing, fermenting, pickling, baking, drying, cooking, and so own. So, things like pickles, canned fish or beans, frozen fruit, olive oil, kombucha, sauerkraut, and yogurt are all considered as “processed.” Supplements like protein powder, adaptogens (i.e., mushroom coffee), and superfood powders (i.e., acai, spirulina, maca, etc.) also count as “processed.” Which is why it helps to be very specific when referring to processed foods.

When I’m talking about processed foods, I am not referring to things like fermented, canned, or frozen vegetables. I’m not even counting protein powder. What I am referring to are processed foods that come packaged with a bunch of added ingredients- preservatives, artificial flavors and colors, modified food starch, MSG, sugar (and all of its alter egos, like maltodextrin, sucrose, and corn syrup), trans fats, and refined flour.

Think foods like these:

  • Candy
  • White bread, biscuits, bagels, donuts
  • Breakfast cereals (especially the ones marketed to children)
  • Snack foods (chips, fruit roll-ups, dried fruit, flavored nuts, granola bars, protein bars, beef jerky, crackers, French fries, Jell-O, popsicles, nachos, fruit yogurt, etc.)
  • Desserts (ice cream, cake, brownies, muffins, cookies, pudding, etc.)
  • Soda, electrolyte sports drinks, juices, pre-made smoothies, sweet teas
  • Microwave meals or foods (mac and cheese, instant ramen, popcorn, corn dogs, lasagna, pizza, etc.)
  • Fast foods
  • “Diet” foods and meal replacements (bars, powders, bread, drinks, snacks, etc.)
  • (Most) plant-based burgers, milk, yogurt, mock-meat products, etc.

And yes, there are “in-between” foods to keep in mind. Tomato sauce can sometimes be bad if it includes canola oil, sugar, and preservatives. But if you buy a brand that uses pure, whole food ingredients like tomato, basil, and salt, then it’s OK. And just because I recommend avoiding ready-made pizza doesn’t mean you can’t ever eat it. Just make it at home from scratch (like I do with my Fork and Knife Zucchini Pizza).

Yes, there’s a fine line between processed and whole foods. The point that I’m trying to make here is that food should be as natural as it can, or at the very least not come together with artificial ingredients.

And let me be clear. You won’t die by having processed foods on occasion. The problem today is that most people’s diets are mostly made up of processed foods. They’ll have sugary, high carb breakfasts like cereal, bagels, French toast, or donuts (plus either coffee with added cream and sugar, juice, or milk), a tortilla wrap, chips, and diet soda for lunch, and then a type of pasta for dinner. And that’s not even counting mid-morning and afternoon snacks or dessert! Do you see where I’m coming from? There’s too much attention towards processed foods and not enough focus on real foods.

So, with that out of the way, let’s finally get into why processed foods are so bad.

[1] [2]

The Bad and the Ugly

I already gave you a quick preview of the added ingredients in processed foods. Things like sugar, preservatives, trans fats, and flavor enhancers are added to these kinds of food.

 With sugar, you’re setting yourself up for a host of problems down the road. Diabetes, energy slumps, heart disease, high cholesterol, fatty liver (non-alcoholic, anyway), obesity, metabolic syndrome, hormone imbalances, kidney disease, gut issues- so many things you don’t have to put yourself through! [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8]

As for trans fats, these are the one fat you want to avoid. These are made through a process of hydrogenation to increase their shelf life and stability. Unfortunately, these fats don’t keep you from being stable. They’ve been shown to increase bad LDL cholesterol, increase bad bacteria down in the gut, and create widespread inflammation across the body. The FDA no longer recognizes them as safe and is currently making an effort to ban it nationwide. Trans fats include hydrogenated canola, soy, and vegetable oil, all of which can be found in ready-to-use dough, margarine, vegetable shortening, margarine, fried food, packaged snacks and desserts, and both dairy and non-dairy coffee creamers. [9] [10] [11] [12]

The artificial ingredients in these foods are not better either. They’re designed to make these imposters last longer, taste better, and look good. Many of these ingredients are special “proprietary blends” that are just a bunch of chemicals that the companies don’t have to reveal to the public. But none of them have any value when it comes to nutrition. They’re not feeding your body; they’re just tricking your brain and taste buds into keeping you coming back for more. As the saying goes, it’s nothing personal; it’s just business. 

Here are the reasons why these processed “fake” foods put your health at risk: 

  • Inflammation (due to the nature of their ingredients)
  • Zero nutrients (nothing but empty calories, carbs, and harmful fat)
  • Addiction and cravings
  • Little to no fiber
  • Blood sugar spikes
  • Digestive disorders
  • Promotes inflammation, obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, etc.
  • Highly addictive (designed to make you overeat)


I want to say that these foods are too much of a good thing, but let’s be honest, there’s hardly anything “good” about them when it comes to your health. We need to be aware of the consequences of overeating these kinds of foods. I’m not telling you never to eat them again. We’re all human! But we’re kidding ourselves by thinking that these foods have any benefits for our health.

It’s your turn, though. Share your thoughts with me down in the comments, and let’s get this conversation started!


[1] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/what-are-processed-foods/
[2] https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/what-processed-food
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23594708
[4] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/199317
[5] https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/86/4/899/4649308
[6] https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-7075-2-5
[7] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/sugar-keeps-good-microbes-at-bay/
[8] https://www.womenshealthnetwork.com/hormonalimbalance/hormonal-imbalance-caused-by-sugar.aspx
[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16713393
[10] https://www.webmd.com/diet/guide/understanding-trans-fats
[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30120538
[12] https://www.healthline.com/health/ways-to-avoid-hydrogenated-oil#foods-with-partially-hydrogenated-oils
[13] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318630.php

Source: Zuzka Light


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