The majority of food purchased by Americans today is highly processed. In fact, Dr. Mercola points out that “about 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food goes to buy processed food.”1 Where did we go wrong? This cannot possibly be healthy for our bodies. What follows is proof that highly processed food must be eliminated from your diet in order to achieve true health!
What are Processed Foods?
Before you can eliminate this vast group of “food,” you need to understand what it is. Processed foods are “anything that isn’t directly from the vine, bush, tree or from the earth.”2 This would include bread, pasta, canned goods, and many frozen goods. Processing in these foods could be considered very minimal or very significant. Those that have endured much adulteration are considered “ultra-processed.” These foods would include breakfast cereals, chips, frozen microwave meals, numerous packaged snacks, and more.
Processed foods are simply those foods that have endured processing in order to make them more shelf stable and palatable. This processing includes the addition of chemicals and preservatives. We should all question when our food is able to sit on a shelf for months without spoiling. There isn’t anything natural about these foods.
One of the greatest issues with processed foods is the amount of added sugar contained in these foods. In order to make food more palatable (and addictive) sugar has been added in incredible quantities. Another reason for this added sugar is the removal of fat. Our society is crazed with “low fat,” which eliminates the flavor in food. Once the fat is removed, sugar must be added in order to make the food taste good. Go ahead and look at some of the labels of food in your pantry…go ahead, I’ll wait! I challenge you to find something without added sugars.
The Problem with Processed Foods
We have established that these highly processed foods are pervasive in our society today, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are dangerous. In fact, one would think that all of our advances in technology would have allowed us to make our food better and more nutritious through processing. Unfortunately, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The processing that our food endures is actually stripping the food of nutrients and is causing all sorts of problems in our bodies. Let’s explore some of these issues.
These highly processed foods that line our supermarket shelves are one of the leading causes of inflammation in the body. Inflammation is the precursor to diseases and sickness as well as a host of other issues in the body. Heart disease, and the dreaded heart attack, begin with inflammation. Arthritis is also caused by excessive inflammation in the joints.
Of course we often hear that cancer is caused by — fill in the blank. In this case though, the foods that you eat, particularly highly processed foods, are increasing your risk of cancer. Processed meats are one of the leading causes of cancer from diet and was even categorized “as equivalent to cigarettes and asbestos in terms of cancer risk.”3
Weakened Immune System
Processed foods are also linked to a weakening of the immune system. It is no surprise with all of the chemicals and preservatives packed into these so-called “foods.” When you load up on this junk food, you are sabotaging your gut health and thereby sabotaging your immune system. Your gut and immune system won’t be equipped to fight off illness and disease.
Besides disease and inflammation, highly processed food leads to all sorts of lifestyle issues. Processed food causes poor sleep, skincare issues, reduced energy levels, and even trouble with your sex life.
The Problem with Processed Oils
Processed oils such as vegetable and canola oils are perhaps the most detrimental products to your health on the market today. These hydrogenated oils cause inflammation, lead to heart disease, and run rampant in the brain. One author and podcaster advocates that smoking cigarettes is less harmful to your body than consuming these processed oils. However, avoiding processed oil is far more difficult than you may think. These oils are everywhere and in nearly everything you find in your local grocery. I want to help you take control of your health and remove these from your diet, but first let me help you understand why they are so dangerous.
The GMO Problem
Perhaps a primary issue with processed oils like vegetable and canola oil is that nearly all are genetically modified. It would be quite difficult to produce as much of these oils as we see on the shelves today without making them GMO. What makes something GMO? When a crop has been modified at its genetic level in order to withstand certain pesticides and allow for greater mass production, it is considered GMO. This is particularly a problem with modern day corn and soy, which are the major components of vegetable and canola oils.
Another major concern with processed oils is that they are highly inflammatory. This is primarily due to the lopsided ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. A healthy ratio is somewhere around 2:1 whereas most Americans are getting closer to a 20:1 ratio. This kind of diet is incredibly inflammatory. Inflammation is the leading cause of disease, chronic pain, as well as a host of other issues. Lose the oils and you will take a major step in reducing and eliminating inflammation in your body!
Increased Risk of Heart Disease
Vegetable and canola oils are hydrogenated in order to increase stability. This process is harmful when these oils enter the body. These oils raise bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and lower good cholesterol (HDL) levels which leads to calcification of the arteries and heart disease.
High in Trans Fat
I’m sure you’ve heard the warnings about too much trans fat. In fact, many advertisers are deliberate in their notation that their products are low in trans fat. So, what exactly are trans fats and why are they so dangerous to your health? While some trans fat does occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, the majority of trans fat occurs through processing. When oils are processed, hydrogen is added to the oil which causes it to become solid at room temperature. Trans fats have been linked to coronary heart disease, adverse effects on the brain and nervous system, depression, and other health conditions.
Removing Processed Foods and Oils
Unfortunately, removing processed foods and oils from your diet is harder than it should be, though not impossible. Make the effort and take back your health! Start with what you have the greatest control of — your home — and then work towards other areas of your life. Removing processed foods means getting rid of all foods that are pre-packaged and unnatural. Ideally, you should remove jarred and canned goods, but I’m not sure those are all bad. You can’t beat the convenience of jar marinara when making pizza for instance. In this case, simply opt for the organic, non-GMO product and you should be good. We are specifically looking for items such as:
- Packaged snacks (cookies, crackers, chips, etc.)
- Breakfast cereal
- Processed, packaged chicken and other meats
The Pervasive Oils
Vegetable and canola oils are far more difficult to rid of your home and life. Diligence is required in the case of processed oils and their pervasive and intrusive place in your life and kitchen. These oils have made their way into nearly everything you find in the stores. They are in salad dressings, condiments, baked goods, peanut butter, and more. You must be vigilant in your quest to eliminate processed oils from your life.
Remove and Replace
Removing processed foods and oils is not all doom and gloom. I promise, you will better off for it. Once you remove these health hazards from your diet, you will focus on nutrient-dense whole foods. Eat foods that are found naturally and require preparation. Sure this is more difficult than eating prepared, processed food but far more detrimental to your health and longevity. Replace processed foods with:
- Fresh vegetables (dark leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.)
- Fresh free-range/grass-fed meats (beef, chicken, pork, lamb, and more)
- Wild-caught fish
- Free-range, pasture raised eggs
- Nuts and seeds
- In-season, low sugar fruits
Replace processed oils with:
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Avocado oil
- Coconut oil
- Grass-fed butter or ghee
Processed foods and oils are extremely pervasive in our society today and found nearly everywhere. The concern is that they are detrimental and dangerous for your health. Removing them from your diet won’t be an easy process, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Make the effort and save your health.
- Mercola, Joseph MD. More Than Half of the American Diet is Ultra-Processed Junk Food.
- Mercola, Joseph MD. More Than Half of the American Diet is Ultra-Processed Junk Food.
- Axe, Josh. Eat Dirt, 67.