How Dangerous are Processed Foods?
Is it necessary to avoid processed foods?
What is food processing?
The process of converting agricultural products into edible products is called food processing. Removing the covering of rice, polishing, grinding wheat into flour, drying fruits, grains, fish and meat, shelling nuts, freezing vegetables and animal products are also included in food processing.
Why food is processed?
Primary food processing is necessary to make most foods edible, and secondary food processing turns the ingredients into familiar foods, such as bread. Tertiary food processing yields convenience foods which can be stored for a longer period, easy to prepare and ready to eat.
What is bad about processed foods?
Tertiary processing uses chemicals for commercial production of convenience foods. These foods are popular as they are ready to eat and easy to prepare. They are tasty but are sometimes unhealthy. These foods lose the essential vitamins and minerals during processing, added with high refined sugars and also contain harmful chemicals as additives.
What are the health risks and dangers of processed food?
Loss of nutritive value –
Many foods lose their nutritive value during the physical and chemical procedures of food processing. Canned fruits lose vitamin C, dried fruits and vegetables lose antioxidants.
High sugars –
Refined sugars are added to various foods as preservative like in canned fruits. Sugars increase the palatability as added in sauces, jam and candies. This can lead to various health problems like obesity and diabetes.
Food colours – Colours are added to processed food to increase commercial value like in jam, ketchup etc. Many chemical colours are proved to be causing cancer.
Stabilisers – Stabilisers used in foods act as a thickening agent to gel the foods into the required consistency. It helps in preventing oil, water emulsions from separating in products such as salad dressing, yogurt, ice-creams, mayonnaise etc. Usually these additives do not cause health problems as they are derived from natural foods. They may contain high sugars.
Sequestrates – A sequestrant is a food additive which improves the quality and stability of foods. A sequestrant forms chelate complexes with polyvalent metal ions, especially copper, iron and nickel, which can prevent the oxidation of the fats in the food. Sequestrants are a type of preservative. Common sequestrants include sodium gluconate, sodium tripolyhosphate and calcium disodium ethylene diamine tetra-acetate. High intake of these foods may disturb several metabolic processes and cause gastric disturbances.
Preservatives –Preservatives are used to increase the shelf life of food and to maintain the quality for longer time. Some of these preservatives are chemicals with side effects. The reaction of preservatives can be very mild to life-threatening. Sulphites are common preservatives used in various fruits, may have side effects like headaches, allergies etc. Nitrates and Nitrites are suspected of causing stomach cancer.
High trans-fat– Trans fat is a partially hydrogenated oil and is less likely to spoil. So foods made with it have a longer shelf life and is found in many snacks and bakes. A diet laden with trans-fat increases risk of heart disease.
Added salt – Consuming too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Most processed food like soup, dressings, snacks, pickles contain added salt.
Contaminations – Processed foods are more likely to get contaminated by microbes during the food processing or during storage.
Allergens – Benzoates are used in foods as antimicrobial preservatives, and have been suspected to cause allergies, asthma and skin rashes.
Fermented products– Many pickled or soured foods are fermented as part of the pickling or souring process. It may give rise to health risks like food poisoning or botulism. Cases of cancer is associated with regular use of some fermented products. Alcohols and spirits are also fermented food with high risk of liver and heart diseases.
What are the benefits of food processing?
Some of the benefits of processed foods are
- Transportation easier.
- Less time consuming for preparation
- Calories counted
- Processing may remove some food borne infections
- Improve the taste and make edible.
- Additional nutrients can be obtained
- Can be used in natural calamities and emergency conditions.
What kind of food is not processed?
Whole and fresh foods from plant or animals are unprocessed. They include foods like whole grains, tubers, legumes, fruits, vegetables, fresh fish and meat, eggs etc.
Is there any healthy processed food?
Some of the healthy processed food include:
- Dried foods like fruits, nuts and grains
- Breakfast cereals
- Frozen vegetables or meat
- Yogurt and tomato puree
- Dark chocolates