Have you noticed the effects of processed foods in your life? Do you have a craving for the same foods, and do you keep eating the same processed foods over and over?
How many processed foods do you eat? Have you ever tried to reduce your consumption of processed foods and, if so, how did that go? Were you able to cut back or were your cravings so intense you couldn’t help yourself; you had to start eating your favorite foods again?
Well…would it surprise you to learn that certain processed foods are addictive, making it difficult for you to reduce consumption? That is probably why you started binge eating your favorite processed foods after you had managed to stay away from them for a while. You were addicted to those foods.
You might be wondering if the effects of processed foods are always bad. Well, that actually depends on the extent of the food processing.
What are processed foods?
Food processing is, strictly speaking, the process of making a raw food ready for human consumption. So by this definition, washing, removing stems, canning, freezing, even cooking a food is processing it.
It is nearly impossible, then, to claim a diet completely free of food processing. Even if you grow your own garden, you are still a “food processor” when you wash the produce and can, freeze, or cook it.
But the health effects of processed foods from your garden, that you do yourself, and many of those from the store, are vastly different. The point is that it’s not processed foods themselves that are bad, it is the level of processing.
There are 3 main categories of commercial food processing.
Unprocessed or Minimally ProcessedOnly minor changes, such as washing and peeling, are done to them. This category includes bagged nuts, bagged spinach, bagged salad, frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, individual produce items such as raw broccoli, cucumber, and onions.
ProcessedFoods that have undergone some processing, but usually contain no more than 3 ingredients. These foods retain most of their nutritive properties, and consumers typically use them to help make cooking a meal more convenient. They are not typically used as “ready-made” meals by themselves. This category includes canned tuna, canned tomatoes, and salted nuts.
Ultra-ProcessedFood-like products made in a laboratory. They contain chemicals that make the food look, taste, and smell like real food, but it is not real food. These foods last a long time on the shelf without spoiling. This category includes ice cream, soda, candy, breakfast cereals, and soups.
When we refer to the effects of processed foods, we are talking about ultra-processed foods. These foods are high in calories, sugar, salt, and fat while providing few nutrients and no fiber. Because there is no fiber to slow their absorption into the bloodstream, ultra-processed foods cause blood sugar spikes. This not only contributes to obesity, but it also leads to type 2 diabetes and many other diseases.
Eating too many ultra-processed foods is one of the biggest reasons for the obesity epidemic and the high numbers of diseases we have in America today. One study showed nearly 60% of our calories come from ultra-processed foods.
The effects of processed foods
Now, let’s go back to that belief by weight loss gurus and nutritional “experts” that everything can be eaten in moderation, that all it takes is willpower. Just eat ONE double chocolate chip cookie, they’ll say. Or, how about eating half that cookie? Leave the other half for later. Or eat just one jelly doughnut or one piece of carrot cake with decadent cream cheese frosting or one spoonful of a hot fudge sundae. As IF!!!
Those “experts” have obviously never tried to stop eating something they’re simply obsessed with, something that pulls them in and won’t let them go until the very last morsel is gone. And even when it’s gone, it’s not really gone. You can’t stop craving it. It keeps hounding you until you drive to the store or restaurant to buy some more of whatever it is that has trapped you so thoroughly.
If you’ve ever felt like this…felt compelled to overeat, or compulsively eat certain foods, even though you know you’re going to feel terrible afterward, you likely suffer from a food addiction.
Food manufacturers purposely addict us
Food addictions are more common than you might think, and they are also not accidental. In his book, Salt, Sugar, Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, author Michael Moss explains how food manufacturers deliberately manufacture foods to hook (addict) us. They formulate and test their products to give them the perfect “mouth feel” for fats, the “bliss point” for sugars, and more. Moss discovered that these companies are continually increasing the sugar content of their foods because of the addictive quality of this substance. They are reaching for the optimum high.
Food manufacturers have long know about the many studies showing sugar consumption is as addictive as heroin and cocaine, and they have no qualms about using it to their financial advantage.
But this really shouldn’t surprise us. After all, cigarette manufacturers own many of the top food companies. Philip Morris, maker of Marlboro cigarettes, owns Kraft Foods. RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company owns Nabisco. Nobody knows how to physically addict people to products better than the tobacco companies!
The effects on health and weight
According to recent research, there is no doubt that the effects of processed foods on health and weight are considerable. Professor Carlos Monteiro and colleagues at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, researched the eating habits of many thousands of people in more than 20 countries for nearly a decade and reached a startling conclusion.
Professor Monteiro stated that poor diet is one of the the top-10 risk factors for death and disability. The top 4 are high body mass index, dietary risks, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. (These conditions are all risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and many other chronic diseases.)
Dr. Monteiro said their research shows the main driver of these diseases are the transnational corporations that market and distribute ultra-processed foods worldwide. They bear responsibility, he says, because of the addictive properties of these foods, the fact that the manufacturers market these products to children and adolescents, their health claims, and the chemicals and components of the foods that cause obesity and disease.
One of the effects of processed foods is inflammation caused by the harsh chemicals and sugars they contain. Researchers now believe inflammation to be the underlying cause of most health conditions and diseases, including:
- Type 2 diabetes
- Gallbladder Disease
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Disease
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Inflammation that can even affect the brain
The effects of processed foods on the brain
New, groundbreaking research shows that over-consumption of processed foods and other poor-quality foods causes neurological inflammation. The discovery that the brain could become inflamed took researchers off guard because neurological inflammation is not supposed to occur.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to protect itself from toxins, bacteria, trauma, injury, and any foreign invaders. The inflammatory response protects the injured site while enacting several healing processes. If you did not have an inflammatory response, you would die. But the brain is too complex and sensitive an organ for the inflammatory response, so it is protected by the blood-brain barrier.
However, if the blood-brain barrier becomes damaged — by something like the chemicals in processed foods, for example — it becomes “leaky,” allowing those dangerous substances into the brain’s environment. This is called “leaky brain syndrome.” The bacteria, toxins, or other substances activate microglia cells causing neurological inflammation.
Cutting-edge research is showing neurological inflammation may be the cause of many diverse symptoms and conditions, including:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Mood Swings
- Brain Fog
- Slowing Metabolism
- Weight Gain
- Low Energy
- Trouble Concentrating
The effects of processed foods resulting in neurological inflammation may even contribute to serious diseases, including:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Heart Disease
- Cardiovascular Diseases
- Metabolic Disorder
- High Blood Pressure
The effects on weight
The effects of processed foods are particularly severe when it comes to weight gain or inability to lose weight. This is because over consumption of processed foods lead to leaky brain syndrome.
The hypothalamus in the brain is in charge of balancing calories in and calories out so that ideally the body never becomes too fat or too thin. The hormones leptin and insulin regulates the hypothalamus. When the brain is healthy, the hypothalamus receives their signals correctly so that when calorie intake increases, your body simply burns more calories. It automatically balances your weight at your setpoint weight with absolutely no help from you.
Neurological inflammation causes these signals to stop working. Your hypothalamus cannot receive these signals. Instead of working to keep you naturally slim, your hypothalamus and hormones now work to hold onto extra fat, no matter how hard you try to lose weight. Neurological inflammation, one of the effects of processed foods, is directly tied to weight gain and an elevated setpoint weight!
Overcome the effects of processed foods
Scientists have found that the most addictive “foods” are fat, flour, sugar, wheat, salt, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine. It is no accident that ultra-processed foods combine most if not all of these ingredients — in just the right amounts to addict you — into their products. How could you possibly break free from your food addiction when the food companies have stacked the deck against you?
Well…go easy on yourself. No shame and no judgment. Overcoming an addiction of any kind is a huge challenge. It is NOT easy. You have made a great first step by admitting that you do have an addiction to a certain food or foods. But this knowledge alone will not help you beat this addiction.
You will also never beat this addiction by eating smaller portions or eating it only once a week or month. The advice to eat something in moderation only works if you are not addicted to that food. It will not work if you are addicted. Period.
The only way you can break an addiction to processed foods is to fill yourself with healthy ones. When you switch to a good diet, you’ll be so full of healthy foods, you won’t have room for processed ones. Plus, research shows these food groups eliminate the most common food cravings, such as sugar and starches.
Wondering how to incorporate these healthy foods into your diet? A good start is my new eBook 80 Brain Boosting, Belly Shrinking Breakfast Recipes. Try some of these meals for breakfast over the next few days, and it’s your first step to adding more superfoods to your routine!
43 Replies to “The Effects of Processed Foods”
It was very interesting to read your blog I am trying to lose weight and I have been eating salads and chicken salad with an egg and some onions in it I have been on this since 1/2/2020 and essentially I lost about 13 lbs I am wondering what I am doing wrong
I have to agree, I do my level best to avoid processed food . I had a quad heart by-pass in 1999 and was put on loads of meds. I found the side effects horrific. Eight years ago I gave up the meds and went on as naturaly grown food as I could. I feel great and I’m told I look 60 but I’m 76 and looking forward to being 100.
What I struggle with is finding a good gluten free bagel recipe. I must have tried al least 10 recipes. They always end up in the garbage.
Thanks for the information I am going to try to do my best
Loved your article.Made sense to me
I have been doing Keto from July 10,2019 and I have been religiously adhering to this way of earring. I try not to eat any processed foods and I used to eat a lot of processed food, I find I can’t always afford organic food, take for example today my husband called me from the grocery store today to tell me that the organic cabbages were $2.49 a lb and regular ones are .49 per lb. so you get more then two for the price of one, as a senior I definitely choose the reg. one. What can you do? What I started to say is how much I miss my sandwiches with ham and cheese on my Panni maker. Also I loved deep fried foods and loved potatoe chips, I tried to eat these things moderately but you know how that goes. However my husband seems to be able to eat all those things and at 76 he takes one small pill, no diabetes or other things while I take 38 pills a day plus insulin, I am off the insulin but still taking all those pills per day but every thing is normal and still taking all those pills. Afraid to rock the boat,, I have had these conditions for years I am 79 and will be 80 in November and have not felt this good for years. However I can’t understand that my feet are still so purple not swollen and I can walk a lot better but I still worry about my legs and feet. I am going to get my husband to read your article as soon as I am finished with this post. Thanks for listening as I am so long winded, it comes from having a quiet husband for over 50 years. Lol
It is a great book.I. am intereting.Thanks for sending message.
How true it is ? Everything you just covered! It is so very hard to overcome food that has taken over your brain! Brain
power;Ha,Ha ??? Sometimes you wonder if you ever had any to start with ? You have to learn “everything in moderation “or else ? It will wreck your whole life ?
Let’s be real,no body’s perfect,but we keep on trying????
I am a 70+ year old and 3 years ago found that I had bowel cancer and this h=made me look at my diet. I didn’t think I ate much in the way of processed food but I would try and cut out as much as I could. All was well until I got over my chemo treatment and now I find that in my thoughts a little bit won’t be bad. I really try to keep as much sugar out of my food as possible but am finding a cake here and there very hard to resist. and when I have one a second one soon follows.
I eat very little bread (like 2-4 slices a week ), eat quite a lot of fresh fruit for supermarket. Salad or home made soup for lunch but diner is a family meal so what ever goes not take aways. My weight is stable and not heavy 67Kg but I found your comments interesting and will try harder to resist.
…yes, so true…and some research even claims that some people have brains, that are more liable to addictions…and moderation of processed food doesn’t work at all once you’re addicted…it simply doesn’t …
It is not my intent to be contrary, and it’s admirable to be able to switch to a” Good diet” and fill yourself with healthy foods hoping that it will eliminate cravings. However, I’ve tried it and although I may have felt physically better for a period, I found out that the gratification only lasted a little while. I am a person who likes to enjoy what I eat, and not just eat for the sake of needing nutrition. Therefore, I find myself experiencing some depression because I spend more time and mental energy trying to eat healthy foods that are not at all satisfying to me and take away one of the things I enjoy in life and that is a palatable, satisfying dinner. I once asked someone who had changed their diet, was losing weight, and experiencing better health, how they managed to do it. They told me that they pretty much had to do away with the idea of taste. I got depressed just listening to that because who wants to live life never enjoying anything they eat, or always having to avoid eating a specific thing because it falls into “a bad” category.
Your blog was extremely helpful and eye opening to the culprit of processed foods. Your thorough explanation backed of by actual dietary studies provide extra motivation to fully transition to fresh foods exclusively. Thank you.
This blog is very helpful.
I have been looking to change what i eat. I’ve been eating a lot more fruits and veggies and drink water. Thank you
I just added this blog site to my feed reader, excellent stuff. Can not get enough!
This really breaks down the properties of processed foods. I have just started a keto diet plan. I think I have been on every “diet” on the planet! I have always had issues with weight and body image issues. Even bariatric surgery wasn’t the answer. Being healthy is my ultimate goal. Looking forward to divorcing all these culprits. Thank you.
Thanks Barb. Trying something new now that the virus is keeping you from Bridge? ha!
Kudos for doing a nice job of explaining science to the general public, as a lifelong educator I can say it is a gift to have this talent.
I rally need help from you my friend
I want to slim down
I live in Nigeria West Africa.
I’ve been yo-yo dieting for years. I spent two years on a diet, and 5 months in a binge eating clinic. Lost 50 LBs. The cravings never go away! Last christmas time I started to allow “treats” and its snowballed into a 50 LB wait gain. I can’t seem to stop it. I hate myself for being so out of control. How can I get my motivation back?
Hi, Thank you very much for your info on processed foods.
I am not overweight, always try to do the healthier thing and its very seldom that I would eat cakes, cookies and sweets.
I just always try to broaden my knowledge about what’s good and what’s bad as for as foods are concerned. This is why I asked for your e-book. So often we eat things because we think it is healthy and then its not. I have a Hypothyroid which is well balanced currently but there is foodstuffs that I tried to avoid. Even certain veggies which are suppose to be super healthy is then not good for me because of thyroid condition. Or maybe not neccesaraly bad for me if prepared the right way for instance cooking times etc.
Hi, sorry forgot to mention about my grandson’s ADHD condition. I think that was also one of my main reasons for showing interest in your website. I do realise how important “avoiding” certain foods are for kids with ADHD.
I’m addicted to foods now since this lockdown began. I can’t stop eating even brings snack to bed before going to sleep. How can I stop this ?
Thank you I love this can’t wait to try your breakfast ideas
Some scary stuff about the brain inflammation. Thanks for the article, twas a good read and helping to keep me on the path of real food.
Very interesting article on how the brain and body work and the affect of processed food on the body and brain!
Indeed, we are what we eat! A good sensible read on a toxic, contrived and controlling condition prompted-commercial eating gets us to and keeps us there in the deceptive guise of moderation, convenience, health and enjoyment. Toxic is toxic! Well not if you flavour it, dress it up! Yup, want a free Krispy Kreme any choice today? Great with a Marlboro and Coffee.🤢 ☠️
I am 57 years old, I have a very active life helping others. When I began my early mena pause age 44 I didn’t know what was happening till many years later. I was mentally ill and put on 3 stones over couple of years. Since then Iv tried all the diets, read all the books, gym membership, home gym equipment, read up minerals, Vitamins etc etc. At the moment I am doing couch to 5 k during lock down as I know I need to move and I like walking. No weight loss. I have always binged eaten, I don’t do that to often now but I still do sometimes. Mentally I am very well, it is just this area of being fit to go into old age and keep well. I have a good family. I know I’m addicted to processed foods, cakes, sweets, bread etc, I have tried so hard not to eat them but they are quick To prepare, easy to reach for. My physical health and weight are the only things in my life I am unhappy with. Now I’m texting a complete stranger. I know I need to stop eating these foods and for one month I did, I lost nearly a stone but I put it back and more when I came of that mainly liquid diet. I feel like a drug addict, I eat my food in secret sometimes 🙁
how do I access the 80 brain boosting belly shrinking breakfast recipes? My computer is not doing anything when I click on the photo of the phone with the title on it.?
I learned a lot about processed foods and addiction to them, and will review your ideas every time I have a bad impulse. thank you.
How do i get the eBook 80 Brain Boosting, Belly Shrinking Breakfast Recipe?
I would like to try some of these recipes.
hi barbara, i agree with you about process foods, i need your opinion spinach is high in oxalate high in salicylate, meadium in
goitrogenic foods,i am not trying to be clever here , my mom died about 12 years ago now thinking eating fruits ,bacon butti
[ bacon sandwich ] lot of starchy foods ,she live to 80 but in a way she was not alive proberly like you said brain fog ect,, what your view on
oxalate,salicylate ,and goitrogenic foods, look forward to your reply ,take care gerald
I HAVE SAME THINKING AS YOU & WANT MORE INFO ON HEART DISEASE & PREDIABETEDS.
Thank you Barbara for a clear, straight talking article on addictive foods and the damage they cause. I am a carer and quite stressed, so I comfort eat some of the naughty foods. I also eat a goodly amount of salad items and other organic veg, eat meat fairly moderately so maintain a reasonable weight overall. However, I have the stubborn belly fat and can relate to a number of bad health problems on your lists. I need to take myself in hand, but I confess my willpower is a bit weak! I don’t sleep well and know this is a factor in weight gain. Until I saw your pictures and lists of processed foods, I didn’t think I ate many of them but I will now be re-evaluating my shopping list. Thanks again.
I know what you mean! I try to eat foods that are less processed and only have 3 or less real ingredients. I can do it for a little while but always fall back to the sweet treats, cake, ice cream, Pop Tarts, etc. I try to follow a vegetarian diet. Who knows!! There is sooooo much information out there! Who knows what is “right”. Without a lot of planning and cooking ahead, I find that “healthy” foods do not taste good!! Very boring!!
In my opinion, processed foods are loaded with salt and sugar which are harmful. Whilst adults can bear the overload of both, young people’s bodies are not, therefore committing them to a life time of dentures, obesity and diabetes. I would prefer to eat a toasted cheese sandwich or an apple and banana then infiltrate mt body with that rubbish. The only junk food we eat in my younger days was fish and chips of Fridays.
For me, it was like quitting smoking. You quit, and you start smoking again, you quit again, you start again (rinse and repeat). Eventually you either quit completely or you quit trying to quit lol. You have to decide if it’s worth the effort to keep quitting.
It took the same effort for me to stop eating the processed foods that I really was hooked on. Quit, go back, quit again, go back etc etc. Trying one “diet” after another. Then one day I realized that I no longer had the cravings for the same foods that I thought would always be my Achilles heel.
So you decide if your health is worth it. If it is, just keep trying. You’ll get there. You’re fighting as strong an addiction as tobacco (or, as we’re finding out, cocaine). You win, you win… you lose, THEY win.
Hi my name is ronda would you be able to tell me what to do l used to be 70kg kilos and then I got menopause and on went the weight and now l can’t get it of l don’t overeat and lm a vegetarian l don’t eat a lot of things please can you tell me what to do. everytime l go and put something on and it want fit l keep crying but my husband doesn’t understand. Ronda
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