It is said that Americans are in love with their processed food. There is much truth to this statement because facts show that a major part of the standard American diet consists of ready-to-eat meals and microwave dinners. No doubt, United States of America has the highest rate of obesity compared to any other country. A casual stroll through a super market isle makes it evident. The most common food items, such as, crackers, breakfast cereals, cookies, potato chips and even the innocent pot of yogurt are examples of highly processed food loaded with sugar, salt, fats and preservatives that are extremely harmful for anyone and almost poison for diabetics.
Any food that comes in packages or boxes falls under the category of processed foods. Convenience or ready-to-eat meals and frozen meals are all processed foods that are treated with additives, preservatives and artificial agents to increase their shelf life. But these processed foods take heavy toll on our health by ruining our digestive system and leading to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and even cancer. Processed foods are highly addictive and often contain phosphates that erode organs and bones.
So, what preventive measures to take to avoid processed foods? Read the food labels before buying? It is even better to stick to foods that don’t need labels at all. For example, fresh fruits, vegetables, fishes and grass fed steak right from the farmer’s market don’t need labels.
Here is a list of 12 heavily processed foods that you should avoid in order to have a healthy lifestyle.
Palm oil is used in a wide range of food products such as cookies, biscuits, wafers, chocolate bars, potato chips and even make-up products. Palm oil in its original form is not harmful at all. But such oils run the risk of turning stale and rancid easily. Therefore it is blasted with hydrogen to turn it in to solid trans-fat that increases its shelf life infinitely so that it can stay “fresh” for years without rotting. Trans-fats increases the level of LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduces the level of HDL (good) cholesterol in the blood stream that leads to cardiovascular diseases and even heart attack.
We are often told to replace butter with its so called “healthier” cholesterol-free counterpart margarine. Butter is manufactured by churning the fats in milk. That’s all. Whereas, margarine is an artificial substitute, a highly processed spread made out of vegetable oil, artificial colorants and other ingredients that are harmful for our body. Vegetable oil is liquid at room temperature, therefore, it is hydrogenated to provide a solid consistency and increase its shelf life. But hydrogenation also converts much of the unsaturated fats in to saturated ones or trans-fats. Trans-fats are the primary cause of various health problems like diabetes, cancer, various types of skin disease, hormonal imbalance and even infertility. So, it is always better to be close to nature and embrace the good old butter.
We may think that we are controlling our glucose intake and calories by replacing sugar for aspartame, saccharine and sucralose but experiments show that any sugar substitute irrespective of its calorie content promotes the brain to increase the appetite for excessive sweet treat consumption thereby promoting weight gain. In addition, the amino acids in aspartame attacks the cells and regular consumption of sucralose interferes with digestive enzymes to cause or aggravate inflammatory bowel disease.
More and more people are including fruits and vegetables to their diet in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and stay fit and canned fruits are a very good option due to its long shelf life and lower price. But you must be careful while purchasing canned fruits because most fruits are canned in heavy sugar syrup that is extremely harmful for diabetic patients. Try to stick to fresh fruits but if canned fruits is the only option you have then rinse the fruits before eating or look for canned fruit varieties that are canned in their own juice.
Processed meat that includes ready to eat meats like deli meat, sausage, hotdogs, bacon, ham and salami are all high in salt, preservatives and sodium nitrite compared to their unprocessed counterparts. Sodium nitrite is used to render the bright red color to the meat to give it a fresh appearance but it also leads to a rise in risk of cancer in humans. Try to stick to meat that is whole and in its natural state like steak, turkey and chicken.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is one of the most common ingredients that is present in almost everything right form cookies and cakes to ketchup, salad dressings, jams, jellies and pickles. It increases the level of triglycerides, boosts fat-storing hormones, mitochondrial malfunction and promotes overeating, obesity and weight gain. Fructose is metabolized only by the liver and a fructose rich diet puts excessive pressure on the liver thereby damaging it.
These tasty and crunchy tit-bits are one of the most popular snacks that taste heavenly with almost anything- be it salsa, dips, ketchup or soda. But when it comes to the health factor, it’s not much of a wise choice because potato chips are loaded with sodium and trans-fats that cause obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, high blood pressure and Alzheimer’s. Stock up on healthy crunchy treats like carrot sticks, celery sticks and zucchini instead.
We all know that chicken nuggets are America’s favorite finger food that goes nicely with the dips. But what’s a chicken nugget made of exactly? Well, the first thing that comes to our mind is lean chicken muscle meat that comes from the breast or thighs. But did you know that these yummy, crunchy snacks are mostly made of mechanically separated meat that’s only 40-50% muscles, the rest being fats, cartilage, blood vessels and nerves. It is loaded with an array of preservatives and stabilizers, pressed, breaded, deep fried and freezed before you find them nicely stacked up in the freezer section. Steer clear of these tempters and opt for healthier recipes like grilled chicken strips.
When whole grains such as rice and flour are refined in an effort to prolong the shelf-life, they are stripped off most of their nutrients, barns, germ, fibers, vitamins and minerals too. Although white rice is cheap and easy to cook but it has very low nutrient value and as it’s too easy to digest therefore raises the blood sugar level and insulin. If you want to control your diabetes and remain healthy then opt for wild rice blends, brown rice, whole grain cereals, breads and wheat pasta.
We can’t even think of a match or a movie without soda but in reality these tingly sugary drinks are loaded with calories and sugar and regular consumption of soda can be directly linked to rise in blood sugar levels and diabetes. Soda has also been linked to obesity, cancer, hormonal imbalance and heart diseases. In addition, it also leads to tooth decay and cavities. Brominated vegetable oil (BVO) present in certain sodas leads to various skin diseases, nerve disorders and memory loss. Steer clear of diet sodas as well because although it has zero calories, but it still contains high levels of artificial sweeteners. An occasional glass or two is fine but don’t turn it in to a habit.
Most of us are hooked to deep fried food and French fries. But this popular side dish not only adds to our waist line but also increases the risk of diabetes, stroke, prostate, breast, lung and pancreatic cancers by leaps and bounds. High in calories and salt, these deep fried finger foods produce a harmful toxin called AGEs (advanced glycation endproduct) that cause chronic inflammation and triggers oxidative stress. So, if you crave these crispy munches then stick to the healthy baked varieties or prepare some at home.
Cold cereal is the conventional morning breakfast dish that America wakes up to and most of us buy loads of these colorful boxes thinking it to be a healthy part of our diet. But most of these cereals are anything but healthy in reality. They are loaded with sugar and very low in dietary fiber that heavily affect people suffering from diabetes. Therefore choose cereals that have no added sugar and provide a minimum of 5 gm or more fiber per serving.
The ultimate mantra to staying healthy is choosing between convenience and kitchen time. You may either stick to ready to eat processed foods and suffer the negative effects in the long run or give some effort and time in quality cooking and have a strong and healthy body and mind in the long run. The choice is up to you entirely.
Devi Gajendran is a Post Graduate in Nutrition (University of Madras, Tamil Nadu) and has tons of experience in Fitness and Nutrition. She is the chief advisor and full time contributor at the Fit Indian and has the final say on all the segments under the Fit Indian paradigm, such as beauty, fitness, home remedies, diseases, diet tips, weight loss, weight gain and so on. A foodie herself, she believes in the Hippocrates quote,” Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” A fitness enthusiast, she believes that the combination of diet and exercise can work wonders. When she is not sharing her valuable knowledge about food and fitness, she likes to spend quality time with her family members, do some healthy baking and listen to soft soulful music.
Weight Loss | Diabetes | Thyroid | PCOS