Processed foods cause heart issues, weight gain and cancer, among other issues.
On some level, most people understand that processed foods aren’t the best option. With the development of the food pyramid, many individuals were told at a young age that fruits and vegetables are healthy and should make up a large portion of their diet. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into reality. These days, ultra-processed foods are everywhere, and they make up a majority of the American diet.
These unhealthy options have become part of the American culture and are available everywhere. When taking a closer look, however, it’s easy to see the profound negative impact that processed foods have had on public health. With a bit of education, it might be easier for more and more people to say ‘no’ to the foods that are literally making them sick.
When looking at the diets of Americans as a whole, an incredible percentage of the food consumed falls into the ultra-processed category. The percentage is around 60% for adults in the U.S., and around 70% in children. Fast-food restaurants offer easy, on-the-go options that are incredibly tempting to busy families. Moreover, store shelves are stocked full of foods with sneaky ingredients that most people don’t even know are there. With so much of this type of food being consumed, any negative health impact is sure to be magnified.
Some of those health issues include things like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and more. As long as ultra-processed foods remain popular in the American diet, it seems likely that these consequences will also remain.
It isn’t exactly clear why processed foods seem to be so much worse for people than unprocessed foods. Through one lens, if people eat the same amount of calories – and consume the same levels of fats, salt, protein, etc. – it seems like their overall health outcomes should be about the same. But that isn’t what has been seen among the general population, and it isn’t what was found in one recent study, either.
This study was performed at the National Institutes of Health and it divided people into groups, giving them processed and unprocessed foods in a controlled manner. The calories these groups consumed were the same, as each individual in the study was given enough food to eat 500 more calories per day than would be needed to maintain their diet. Then, the individuals were told to just eat as they wished, and the results were tracked.
At the end of the study, the group given processed foods had eaten more than the other group and had gained weight. While it’s not exactly clear why the processed foods group ate more, it may be as simple as the carefully engineered tastes of these foods make them hard to resist.
It’s easy to make nutrition complicated, and it can feel overwhelming when there is so much science to study and so many options for what to eat. At the end of the day, however, the story rarely changes regardless of the details of the research – eating natural foods in a reasonable quantity tends to help humans stay healthy, both in terms of maintaining appropriate body weight and avoiding disease. If processed foods continue to be a diet mainstay, then health risks increase over time.