Salt, sugar and fat: Here’s how processed foods can affect your health and wellbeing

If you are addicted to readymade foods that come in boxes and jars, think again. Processed foods can lead to health risks as they are high in sugar, salt, fat and empty calories, says our nutritionist

Why are processed foods harmful? Why should these foods be eaten in great moderation?

I’ve heard many people say that processed foods are just ‘convenience’ foods for them. But, is it better to consume something out of a box just because it is convenient or would it be better in the long run to take the time to cook a dish with whole foods?

There are many reasons why processed foods are not good for you and in this article, I’ll take you through them one by one.

Check the labels of all processed foods to understand the ingredients

Go by the labels

The labels on processed food packets and jars can tell you a lot about them if you know how to interpret them the right way.

But labels can also be immensely clever. You could miss many aspects completely because they have been labelled a certain way. Understanding food labels is critical to your health. Once you learn to decipher them, you can derive information about the calories, nutritional content and additives in these foods.


Hidden sugars can cause health risks

One of the biggest challenges of processed foods are the hidden sugars.

Many processed foods contain too many simple sugars, that can cause your blood sugar to spike and crash. It can lead to blood sugar fluctuation which is the root cause of every inflammatory condition. It can also lead to insulin resistance.

Processed foods can list sugars under different names and often you will think that it contains much less sugar than it actually does.

Look out for labels like maltose, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, sucrose, honey, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, lactose, galactose, maltose, maltodextrin and so much more.

Even the processed food packets that have no sugar labels listed in the ingredients can still have tons of natural sugars such as coconut sugar, jaggery, honey and raw cane sugar. They are all different kinds of sugars and you could end up getting a ton of it!

For instance, some high protein granola bars contain a ton of sugar, and you could be fooled into thinking that you are helping yourself get healthy by eating them.

Some cereals that come in boxes could contain highly inflammatory ingredients that trigger anxiety.


In order to keep the price of a product lower, most processed foods use hydrogenated or poor-quality fats such as canola oil.

Bad quality fats put a heavy strain on your liver. When fats are of poor quality, they stay in your system for a long time and get oxidised into bad fats.

This creates oxidative stress and impacts cellular function. They rob you of energy and lead to chronic fatigue. They also add weight.

What can be worse is the fact that processed foods which mention low fat on the label as a way to entice you, often replace fat with other harmful ingredients like different forms of sugars and poor-quality grains.

There is a world of difference between eating high-quality healthy fats like ghee and coconut oil in fresh food versus these bad fats in processed foods. They are especially found in products like margarine, commercial spreads, salad dressings, fried foods and processed foods with extended shelf life.

Food colouring and preservatives

Processed food is popular because of its convenience and taste

Research has shown that 89% of hyperactive children reacted to food colouring, 72% to flavouring, 60% to MSG and 60% to chocolates.

These are common ingredients in most processed foods. Sensitivity to chemicals additives, sweeteners and even naturally occurring substances like salicylates can be triggers for learning challenges in children. Many people have issues with inflammatory pains from glutamates.

These are compounds found in MSG, yeast, soy sauce, parmesan, sauerkraut, bone broth, gelatine, peas, corn and tomatoes. Chocolates are added to many processed foods to entice people into having them. Many people are sensitive to chocolate and react badly with hives and skin problems.

Egg derivatives

While whole free-range egg might be rich in nutrients and work for some people, many processed foods have egg derivatives which are not only dangerous as they are sourced from farmed eggs, but they also become hard-to-digest proteins in their preserved form.

These can lead to allergic responses in several people, causing immune activation and can worsen autoimmune attacks.

Processed foods and addiction

Any food that does not spoil, is not really good for you. Food will spoil. It should be perishable.

When food is not perishable, something drastic has been done to it, in order to extend its shelf life. Food created that way is highly inflammatory. Sugars ferment and feed yeast overgrowth, proteins are poor quality and fats create oxidative stress. Food colours can cause attention issues in children.

Many substances and flavours are added to processed foods to make you enjoy them and you feel like eating them all the time.

These are addictive substances, such as glutamates. That is the reason why your child keeps craving the same bag of chips or cookies over and over again.

All these ingredients play games with brain activity, leading to hyperactivity, addiction to electronic devices, inability to stay focused on anything, drastic mood fluctuations ranging from anger to weepiness, and they can induce adult addictive patterns as well.

Whole foods vs processed foods

Stay safe with home-cooked food

The best thing that you can do for yourself and for your family is to get high-quality whole food provisions and produce and make healthy foods at home. If time is a challenge, look out for prepped vegetables. This will allow you to manage your time and throw quick meals together.

Making healthy meals for your family does not need a ton of money or time.

It is easy to create one pot meals, smoothies, salads, stir fries and snacks with simple ingredients.

The next time you visit a store and find yourself picking up those processed food boxes, read the labels. Look for hidden sugars. Check for preservatives and food colouring.

Set them aside and opt for whole foods instead.

(Images credit: Shutterstock)

Edited by Asha Chowdary

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)


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