Nutrition 101: How Processed Foods Make Us Fat, Malnourished, and Sick

by Daisy Luther

Did you ever wonder how people who exist on a diet of mainly processed foods can be both overweight and malnourished at the same time? Despite overly abundant calories, people who live off of boxed macaroni and cheese, frozen dinners, Ramen noodles, and other packaged foods aren’t getting the nutrients that people who eat a whole foods diet are getting. Deadly GMO ingredients aside, the sheer amount of chemicals in processed foods can lead to disease, obesity, and malnutrition.

If you aren’t entirely familiar with the way processed foods can affect your health, read on. This is an introduction to how processed foods differ from whole foods, based on frequently asked questions about the subject.

What happens in your body when you eat processed foods?

When you eat heavily preserved foods, your body can’t break them down to use the nutrients in them (if there are nutrients left in the first place after all that processing). The video below compares how homemade noodles from fresh, wholesome ingredients and Ramen noodles travel through your digestive system.

This video is an excellent illustration of what happens in your body after consuming two different types of food:

Do you see how it is impossible for the digestive acids in the body to break down the processed food? The Ramen noodles remain recognizable most of the way through the system until they are ready to be excreted. This means that the few nutrients that may still be present are not made available for the body’s use. The accessibility of nutrients for your body’s use is called “bio-availability”.

This is the reason that North America is full of malnourished fat people – those who rely on processed food must consume far more of it in a vain effort to get the nutrients they need. They crave food because their bodies are crying out for the vitamins and minerals that are needed to function.

Mood disorders and mental illness can also be directly related to the consumption of processed foods. They are lacking in the Omega 3s and other nutrients that are vital in proper brain function and good mental health. (You can learn more about nutrition for mental health HERE). This is not to oversimplify the seriousness of mental illness – it is a crushing, debilitating experience. But the symptoms can be lessened, if not cured altogether, with excellent nutrition and the avoidance of trigger chemicals.

It’s not just about malnutrition, it’s about consuming poison.

Additives like high fructose corn syrup, sugar and MSG are linked to obesity, not just because of the excess useless calories and lack of nutritional bio-availability mentioned above, but because of their “addictive” qualities. When you consume them, they actually trigger the release of dopamine in your brain, the same hormone that is released when an addict takes a needle full of heroin. Over time, it takes more and more of the same substance to achieve the same feeling, that of pleasure and euphoria. Foods containing these ingredients are actually engineered to create cravings and addiction. It gives a whole new meaning to the old Lay’s Potato Chip commercial, “Bet you can’t eat just one.”

The problems don’t end with malnutrition and associated illnesses. The chemicals added to these foods are directly linked with cancer, diabetes, infertility, autoimmune disorders, and heart disease.

Make over your diet

Changing your eating habits will be one of the most important things your ever do for yourself and your family. While processed foods are cheap, quick, and abundant, whole foods require a little more effort. Your health is worth it!

  • The first thing to do is to rid your kitchen of all of the toxins. If it’s there, you’ll eat it. Spend one week eating only what you cook completely from scratch. Just one week will highlight for you the places where you are using “food” instead of “ingredients” to make your meals. Use only single ingredients for one week: flour, rice, oats, organic milk and yogurt, grass-fed meat, organic fruits and vegetables, and basic pantry supplies (yeast, baking soda, etc.) Include your kids in the process of making homemade pretzels, baking cookies and creating gourmet oatmeal flavors like maple syrup apple pecan. (If they’re included in the preparations, it helps to lessen the complaining if they are craving foods that are more familiar.) Even if your diet is already pretty clean, you may be surprised to discover that you have more of a reliance on packaged items than you thought.
  • Many people are put off by the high price of eating healthy. And they are right, to a certain extent. If you go to the health food store and buy packages of organic crackers, fancy breads from the bakery, and other gourmet items, you will spend a fortune. But keep in mind that an organic processed food is still a processed food. It’s better then something from Kellogg’s or General Mills, but it isn’t ideal. There are a lot of ways to clean up your diet without breaking the bank. Click HERE to read about “20 Ways to Build a Whole Foods Kitchen on a Half Price Budget.” All of the suggestions won’t work in every location, but you should be able to cobble together enough of them to create a healthful, non-processed diet at a fraction of the price you expected to pay. Be sure to check our your local farmers’ market to find a local, nutritious bounty at a great price.
  • Another of the major complaints about a whole foods lifestyle is that it is too time-consuming. Here’s a list of 40 Quick and Clean Snacks that require little to no prep time. Being sick and unhealthy is far more time-consuming than taking a moment to prepare a non-processed meal or snack.

Once you cut the processed foods from the majority of your diet, you will begin to notice how awful you feel when you go off-plan and eat a bag of chips or a fast food meal. The interesting (and horrifying) thing about this is – you felt that way ALL THE TIME before cutting that food from your diet, but you didn’t realize it because feeling unwell was your normal baseline.

Daisy Luther is a freelance writer and editor. Her website, The Organic Prepper, where this article first appeared, offers information on healthy prepping, including premium nutritional choices, general wellness and non-tech solutions. You can follow Daisy on Facebook and Twitter, and you can email her at [email protected]

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