Processed Foods: The Worst Ones You Eat Every Single Day

It’s easy to get caught up in the swing of your daily schedule and forget to reach for your fruits and veggies before you run out the door. With instant noodle dishes right at your fingertips and microwaveable meat products that deliver on taste and quickness in preparation, these processed foods are finding their way into most American diets. According to CBS News, over half of all calories in a common American diet are from these ultra-processed foods, which means a typical day of eating involves an overdose of sodium, chemicals, added sugars, sweeteners, coloring, trans fats, and saturated fats that can contribute to heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Foods that are ultra-processed typically share the common link of having many natural and artificial flavors and colors, sweeteners, and preservatives — ingredients of which are not used when making food from scratch. The ultra-processing is used so that consumers can eat these foods as replacements for minimally processed foods, drinks, and dishes at a lower cost and with more appeal to how they taste. Once you start eating the processed foods, you’re likely to keep craving them as well, making them more desirable than their non-processed cousins.

Want to know if your diet is full of ultra-processed foods? Here are the top seven that you may reach for daily.

1. White bread

bologna sandwich with mustard on white bread that's been bitten

Make sure to skip out on the white bread. | iStock.com

While you may think your daily sandwich using white bread isn’t so bad for your health, these breads typically contain high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, and dextrose for added flavor and a lot of extra sugar. Unlike the healthier whole-wheat bread, Mother Earth News explains white bread is stripped of all nutritional value because of the way it is refined. While wheat has vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, and protein, white bread has these nutrients removed during the refinement process, making it full of simple carbohydrates and nothing more.

The bleaching process used for white bread is also terrible for your body — it is only used to make the bread more visually appealing to consumers, and the bleach used is benzoyl peroxide. Benzoyl peroxide creates free radicals which contribute to DNA damage and aging as well as headaches, nausea, and vomiting.

2. Soda

soda

Soda is a definite no. | iStock.com

Most people realize that soda is just empty calories with no nutritional benefits at all, but most people don’t realize that diet soda is just as harmful to the body as the soda that contains real sugar. EPYK explains how regular, full-calorie soda contains high-fructose corn syrup, which is even worse for you than sugar because of its damaging effects to the liver. And, the artificial sweeteners found in diet soda make you crave the real stuff, so don’t be too surprised if you find yourself wanting to reach for cookies and cakes if diet soda becomes a staple in your diet.

Soda also contributes to creating an acidic environment within our bodies, which goes against your body’s naturally alkaline state. Cancer cells thrive in acidic environments, making soda a potentially cancer-causing food.

3. Store-bought cookies and cakes

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies are super processed when you buy them in a package. | iStock.com

The ingredient list in most store-bought cookies and cakes is off the charts — though you may not expect one cake from the bakery or one roll of cookie dough to contain up to 80 ingredients, many of them do, and the ingredients are mostly preservatives, artificial coloring, and harmful additives.

The Huffington Post describes the different harmful ingredients that are found within a roll of cookie dough, which includes vanillin and partially hydrogenated oils. While most people may think that vanillin is closely related to vanilla and thus harmless to the body, vanillin is actually an artificial ingredient originally created from clove oil but is now often derived from wood or petroleum. Though vanillin will not directly negatively affect your body when ingested, it can be harmful if inhaled or irritating to the eyes or skin if in direct contact.

Partially hydrogenated oils contain trans fats, which are linked to coronary heart disease and may increase the risk of diabetes and Alzheimer’s. This is in addition to the sugar and saturated fat load already present in cookie dough and store-bought cakes, so be wary when purchasing your sweets already baked.

4. Processed meats

Hot Dogs in buns

You need to leave the processed meats behind. | iStock.com

Processed meat, that is, meat that has been smoked, salted, cured, dried, or canned, contains dangerous chemicals that are not present prior to the processing. The category of processed meat is widespread and includes hot dogs, bacon, salami, corned beef, beef jerky, and canned meats. These processes are known for adding a lot of sodium to the products.

Authority Nutrition discusses the dangers of consuming processed meat due to its link to chronic diseases like high blood pressure, heart disease, and bowel and stomach cancers. While eating these meats every once in awhile is not likely to increase your chances for these diseases, repeated consumption is likely to boost your chances of developing any one of them over time.

Sodium nitrate, a common additive in processed meats used to preserve color and improve flavor, can turn into N-nitroso compounds when exposed to high heat. These compounds may contribute to your risk of developing bowel and stomach cancer. Additionally, smoking meat can lead to the formation of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which, in some cases, have been shown to cause cancer as well.

5. Instant noodle soups

chicken noodle soup in a bowl

Noodle soups are full of sodium. | iStock.com

If you’re crunched for time on your lunch break and you’re looking for a quick bite to eat, stay far away from instant noodle soups. While they may seem like an easy and fast option, Healthline explains noodle soups can contain up to 2,000 milligrams of sodium in one package. The American Heart Association suggests consuming 1,500 milligrams of sodium a day as the limit, and eating this one package exceeds the daily value by quite a bit. If you choose to eat noodle soups daily, or most canned soups in general, your blood pressure may rise quite a bite due to these sodium levels, putting you at risk of a stroke.

In addition to the sodium, don’t expect any instant noodle soups to keep you full for very long — they are mainly made up of simple carbohydrates and saturated fats with little protein. Try making your own soup to control the amount of sodium you’re consuming daily, and ditch the instant noodles as a lunch staple.

6. Margarine

Biscuit being buttered

Margarine should not be your go-to spread. | iStock.com

While margarine may seem like the healthier choice over butter because it’s created from vegetable oils and butter is made from animal fats, you may want to rethink adding this over-processed food into your diet. Butter contains more saturated fat, but some brands of margarine contain trans fats. Mayo Clinic explains that trans fats are similar to saturated fats in that they increase blood cholesterol levels and lowers “good” cholesterol levels. Trans fats are also linked to heart disease, so if you’re going to use margarine in your food, check the nutritional labels for a brand devoid of these fats.

Another thing to consider when debating margarine versus butter is that margarine contains no natural ingredients, and the vegetable oils used to create the product are high in omega-6 fatty acids. If you have an imbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids it can cause inflammation in the body. Hazardous chemicals like acetone, phosphoric acid, and caustic soda are all also found in margarine.

7. Ketchup

ketchup

Ketchup is full of sugar. | iStock.com

While ketchup may be common in your household for burgers and fries, you’ll want to be careful of how much you consume. Hungry for Change discusses how ketchup is loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. Most of what you’re getting when you eat ketchup is sugar — just one tablespoon of this food contains up to 4 grams of sugar, in fact. Ketchup also contains MSG that is added to the product for flavoring, which may cause headaches and trigger allergic reactions in some.

The sugar in ketchup can contribute negatively to your daily caloric intake overall as well, and this condiment can sabotage a diet if you aren’t careful. And don’t be fooled into thinking organic ketchup is any better for you — typically, the organic brands contain just as much sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.