Despite renewed interest in farmers markets and do-it-yourself preserving projects, Americans are still eating tons of processed food. Yahoo Health reported that a new study found highly processed foods account for 60% of the calories in foods we purchase.
The study defined highly processed foods as those that contain “multi-ingredient, industrially formulated mixtures.” That mainly means things like cookies and chips, while items like canned vegetables and whole-grain cereal are considered lightly processed.
But not so fast. The healthy prepared foods you regularly buy might not be quite as healthy as you think. A reporter for The Guardian gained access to Food Ingredients, a trade show that connects buyers, suppliers, and distributors. She revealed additives were found not only in the usual suspects like cakes and sauces, but also packaged fruit salad.
The article said the produce had been treated with NatureSeal, a product that can add 21 days to the shelf life of fruits and vegetables. So that “fresh” diced pineapple and melon from the store could actually be nearing three weeks old. NatureSeal, according to The Guardian, is “classified as a processing aid, not an ingredient, so there’s no need to declare it on the label.”
Even if you’ve accepted the fact that much of what you purchase is processed in some way, it’s confusing to figure out how it affects you. As it turns out, there are plenty of reasons to reconsider your usual trip to the store. You might want to toss that frozen pizza and make your own.
1. You’re becoming addicted to sugar
Most people have learned to watch out for sugar and high-fructose corn syrup on food labels, but there’s an astounding array of different ingredients out there that you’ve never even heard of.
That could help explain why we’re eating so much of the sweet stuff. WebMD reported that, on average, Americans get 16% of their daily calories from sugar, despite the government’s recommendation to limit it to 10%. Eating too much sugar leads to scores of health problems, including obesity and high blood pressure.
It’s hard to simply stop eating so much sugar, though. The New York Times reported our bodies become addicted in a way that’s remarkably similar to drugs. The more you eat, the more you want.
FitDay explained consuming sugar releases feel-good chemicals in the body that make us feel satisfied. The article went on to reveal findings from a study that found rats given large quantities of sugar experienced withdrawal symptoms once the sweet stuff was restricted.
You wouldn’t dump a pile of sugar on top of a piece of chicken you just cooked, so why purchase the packaged equivalent?
2. Your relationships are suffering
Most people cite convenience as one of the top reasons they choose fast food. After all, cooking at home does take some planning and preparation.
The Daily Mail revealed findings from a study that found the average American spends $1,200 a year on fast food, which equates to about two meals per week. While that might be good for saving a few minutes here and there, it’s eliminating some of the best opportunities to connect with other people.
The Atlantic reported that families are eating together less and less. The story went on to say that children who ate with their families less than twice a week were more likely to miss school. Eliminating that time with people we care about eliminates the chance to catch up and connect.
Even people who don’t have children can suffer the consequences. The Washington Post reported that, while still a young area of research, studies have found a connection between the quality of the foods people eat and their mental health.
Being in a better state of mind will undoubtedly benefit relationships, as well as friendships. And it could be as simple as putting down the french fries.
3. They’re destroying your health
Eating a bowl of boxed mac and cheese or munching on some chicken-flavored crackers might taste good, but the negative impacts far outweigh the very small amount of enjoyment you get from the flavor. Livestrong explained swapping the ready-made stuff for nutritious foods can do everything from improving heart health to reducing your risk for obesity.
Eating too much junk is also associated with some more unexpected consequences. Shape explained the sugars and trans fats found in many packaged foods triggers an inflammatory response, which can speed up your body’s aging process. The story went on to say these foods can even exacerbate premenstrual syndrome (PMS) in women. You may want to rethink that sugary coffee drink.
4. Packaged foods destroy the environment
In addition to individual wellness, processed foods have implications for the planet’s health as well. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Americans generated 251 million tons of waste in 2012, and only 34.5% of it was recycled.
Processed foods don’t help matters. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health explained that the majority of packaging waste comes from food products. And it’s not just the volume that matters. Some of the packaging materials, like BPA, can lead to cardiovascular disease and different kinds of cancer.
There’s hope on the horizon, though. The Washington Post reported that a number of operations are doing what they can to help eliminate waste. Some grocery stores are experimenting with packaging-free designs but face some limitations, as they don’t carry meat or cheese.
The story also said some designers are working on developing biodegradable, and even edible, packaging. But it’s hard to know whether these developments have long-term feasibility.