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Processed foods: what they are made of and why their components are so harmful

Photo: Edward Lich / Pixabay

Today we all want to be healthier. It is well known that the best way to achieve this in the long term, in a sustainable and safe way, is through a good diet; so it is nothing new to talk about the devastating effects of a diet rich in processed foods. The truth is that although most foods require some degree of processing, not all processed foods are bad for the body. The ones that are really worrisome are chemically processed foods, also called ultra-processed and characterized by its high content of sugar, artificial ingredients, refined carbohydrates and trans fats. They are considered one of the main contributors to obesity and a long list of chronic diseases around the world.

Fortunately, numerous scientific studies have come to light that come to give us even greater clarity. Such is the case of a large study, which had the participation of 100,000 adults and which found that eating 10% more ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with a increase of more than 10% in the risks of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease and cerebrovascular disorders. Among the main reasons were the high content of saturated fat, sodium, additives, sugar and few nutrients, such as fiber. There is another interesting reference, a study that involved 20,000 adults and which found that those people who consume more than 4 servings of processed foods a day have a higher risk of mortality from all causes Worst? For each additional serving, the risk of all-cause mortality increases by 18%. Its direct relationship with weight gain was also proven.

With so many references it is not surprising that in recent months, one of the most recurring health-focused nutritional warnings has been avoid consuming ultra-processed foods. However, on many occasions we are not clear about what they contain and why they are so harmful to health, based on this we undertook the task of analyzing the main components of these products and the way in which they deteriorate health.

1. They are rich in added sugars

Processed foods tend to contain added sugar and often high fructose corn syrup. The most worrying thing is that added sugar does not contain essential nutrients and does contain a high caloric content, and in the long term, recurrent consumption is associated with compulsive eating and sugar addiction. These types of foods are also known to be associated with degenerative conditions such as obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and inflammatory diseases. It is worth mentioning that processed foods and beverages are among the top sources of added sugar in the American diet.

2. Contain artificial and chemical ingredients

If you look at it, the ingredient list on the back of processed food packaging is usually full of unrecognizable substances. It is well known that these artificial chemicals are added in the food industry with the aim of make food more attractive and extend its shelf life. They often contain the following substances: preservatives, which prevent food from spoiling quickly, artificial coloring, chemical flavorings, texturizing agents, and dozens of additional chemicals.

3. Refined vegetable and seed oils

Another of the most common and harmful ingredients for body weight and general health are refined vegetable and seed oils. Among the main variants are: corn, sunflower, safflower, soybean and cottonseed oil. Although at some point vegetable oils were recommended to replace the consumption of saturated fats, with the aim of reducing cholesterol levels and preventing heart disease. Today we have enough scientific evidence that positions them as a harmful agent, the main reason is that they are highly refined products without essential nutrients and therefore “empty” calories. Another worrying aspect is its high in polyunsaturated omega-6 fats, which contain multiple double bonds that are prone to damage and rancidity when exposed to light or air. And which we are prone to consume in excess, in fact it is estimated that an average person can consume up to 16 times more omega-6 fats than omega-3 fats, its excess is related to an increase in inflammation, accumulation in the arteries and heart disease.

4. BPA

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical that It is found in the plastic containers of many common foods and beverages. There are studies in which it has been shown that BPA can leak from containers and enter food or drink, the most common examples are bottled water, packaged and canned foods such as fish, chicken, turkey, beans and vegetables. So studies have shown that exposure to BPA leads to reproductive problems and increases the future risk of breast and prostate cancer. There are also other references that have found that high levels of BPA are associated with infertility, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovary, hormonal disorders, thyroid and obesity.

4. Trans fats

We cannot fail to mention trans fats, which undoubtedly enjoy a very bad reputation, not in vain they are considered the least healthy fats that we can consume. They are created by pumping hydrogen into unsaturated oils to turn them into solid fats, and one of the most worrying aspects of their consumption is that the body does not recognize or process trans fats in the same way as natural fats. They are lethal to health, in large part by causing inflammation and its negative effects on heart health. Its excessive consumption is related to heart disease, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

5. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)

Red meat is a great source of protein, iron, and several other important nutrients. However, you can free toxic by-products called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) during certain cooking methods. Therefore, it is a substance that is usually found in processed, packaged and sausage meats. The truth is that PAHs are toxic and are associated with an increased risk of cancer.

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