Just How Bad Are Processed Foods?
Author: Riley Pearce
Social Media Director
Personal Trainer – Byward Market
Last week a study was released on the effects of heavily processed foods on the body. It had 20 participants of average age (30 +/- a year-ish), average BMI (27 +/- 1.5kg/m^2), consume the same diet for 14 days. Half of the people consumed a whole food diet, the other half consumed a processed foods diet. After 14 days, the groups switched.
Each diet was matched for fat, carbohydrates, sugar, fiber, and sodium. In the end the processed diet yielded 100 more calories per day than the whole food diet, with slight caloric increases observed in the carbohydrates and fats.
Their conclusion: When people consumed a whole food diet for 2 weeks, they lost almost a pound. When they consumed the processed diet, they gained a pound. In the end the researchers confirmed what most of us know that a whole food diet is better for our health, and can also be a way to minimize risk of obesity and weight-related disease.
So why does this happen?
There are a few mechanisms at play here. First, and this really cannot be ignored, is the fact that on the processed diet, the participants were consuming around 700 more calories per week than the whole food diet. More calories, typically means weight gain.
Although that is a simple explanation, there is more to it. Hopefully you have heard that it isn’t just about the quantity of the calories, but also the quality.
Processed foods are usually packaged, filled with preservatives, and made with cheap or synthetic ingredients to produce a similar food to whole food, but at a fraction of the cost and with a much longer shelf-life.
Our bodies evolved to metabolize and function on what was available to us in nature. Real animals and fresh plants and fungi are what our body knows how to break down and use. Even if we do not use it (like corn), our body knows how to excrete it.
So as we consume manufactured foods, some of the substances that end up in the food, or that the food is exposed to (think of the air they pump into chip bags), our body isn’t equipped with the mechanisms to break it down and use or excrete it.
So where does it go instead?
Turns out our adipose tissue, the tissue comprised of adipocytes, or fat cells, is a great place for storing foreign substances. Not only that, but once toxins are stored there, that tissue begins to promote inflammation in the body. So not only are foreign chemicals putting more adipose tissue on our bodies, but now they are making us “fluffy” too. This effect is also seen in areas of high air pollution concentration. A study published in 2010 in the Journal of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology looked at the early exposure of mice to high air pollution. What they observed was this same effect – increased risk of obesity, chronic inflammation, and even insulin resistance!
The fact is that processed foods will not only lead to unwanted weight gain, but they’ll also put your body into a diseased state if you are constantly consuming these foods. The longer you hold onto these toxins in the body, the more chronic your inflammation becomes, and the greater chances you have of developing many different kinds of diseases.
Although the human body is certainly complex, it is also quite simple. Your body is like a car. Put the low grade fuel in and the car will go, but for not as long and the parts won’t last as long. Put in premium fuel and the car can drive for much longer, and the integrity of the parts will be maintained over a longer period of time.
The type of fuel we put into our bodies will dictate our health and longevity. If it hasn’t been inherently clear up to this point, then we hope this point is perfectly clear now: Choose whole, natural foods first.