Why are processed foods so bad for you?

August 14th, 2013

Appliance Talk Ovens & Cooking

We had an event at lunch-time today, a little team bonding office-soiree – you know the sort of thing. Anyway, I ate a lot of junk: party pies, pizza and sausage rolls. The kind of food providing a certain amount of joy which swiftly morphs into ongoing regret and stomach pain.


All that processed gunk seemed like a good idea at the time, you always think. Why?

Well, ‘cos it’s easy, it’s readily available and – bottom-line – it tastes great.

So why does the damn stuff insist on turning aound and stabbing you in the back (of the stomach)? We did a little research on the subject and came up with a few irrefutable points (and one or two bits of conjecture). All of which will make you think twice next time you stick  chicken nuggets into your oven or fire up the microwave for a little reheated McCain’s Lasagne (for one).

What’s so bad about processed foods?

It’s no big revelation that the vast bulk of processed food is hard to stomach. Why?

In a nutshell: more additives, less nutrients.

The processes of heating and cooling that extend the lifespan of processed foods in turn bleaches out a lot of vital nutrients. In the case of vegetables, water-soluble vitamins like Vitamin B are lost. Under heat, Vitamin C hits the high-road, so canned fruits have less vitamin C than fresh ones.

food-additivesAdditives are bad, m’kay

Well, basically.

Additives are designed to preserve food or enhance aspects of its taste, texture or appearance. Some have been used for yonks (eg salt), but with the advent of food processing in the 20th century, many more additives have cropped up (both of a natural and an artificial origin).

The health risks associated with these chemicals will vary … with a certain amount of scientific debate and intrigue playing a part to confuse things.

High on the list of guilty suspects, however, are transfats, the Doctor Evil of processed food additives: massively unhealthy, totes yummy. They are used to prolong the shelf life of products and improve the texture of foods such as peanut butter and margarine.

Transfats have been linked to LDL cholesterol – which has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease.


A long list of additives we suggest you should be wary of includes nasties such as: Sodium Nitrite. This is used as a preservative, colouring and flavouring in various kinds of processed meats and has been linked with cancer.

We also don’t like the sound of something called Olestra, which is a fat substitute found in crackers and potato chips. It’s not absorbed by the body – it goes straight through you, people – so it has been linked with diarrhea and flatulence. Neither of which are sensations we are hanging out for.

Then of course, there’s MSG – one of the most famous of all additives. A flavour-enhancer, this little substance is known to cause headaches, nausea and vomiting after consumptions. AND according to one Dr. Russell Blaylock, an author and neurosurgeon, there is also a link between MSG and sudden cardiac arrest. Now there’s a thought which is enough to put you off your Maggi Thai-Flavoured Noodles.

Why do we willingly eat this stuff?

Because, generally, it’s cheaper and more accessible and just plain easier to deal with … at least in the short-term (many of the long-term side-effects of eating processed food being neither cheap nor easy to deal with). And if you’re knackered, hungry and don’t have many options … well what are ya’ going to do?

The psychological impact of processed foods is also noteworthy. This stuff is highly addictive.


Some processed foods have been found to stimulate dopamine, which is the “pleasure” neurotransmitter. This makes you crave the substance in order to replicate this fleeting moment of bliss. Sound familiar? Uh, yes. (And where can we get some dopamine?)

But we end up feeling like crap, anyway – why?

‘Cos they mess up your guts, yo’.

Processed foods will contribute to an “imbalanced inner ecosystem”. ‘Cos processed foods have been stripped of the natural fibres, enzymes, vitamins and all the other shiny, happy nutrients … it can seriously mess with the general vibe of your digestive tract. It’s also kicking your beneficial bacteria in the (metaphorical) ass … thereby putting your system at risk of infection.


And despite the fleeting high that comes with eating them, the theory goes that processed food is ultimately a downer. If you’re feeling depressed angry or just plain worn-out – it could quite well be your diet that needs changing (and not, despite what you think, your wife or husband).

The ingredients in processed food are often sub-par, stripped of the things our bodies have evolved over time to want and need and use in various neato kinda ways. For example, fats and oils used in processed food are refined, therefore stripped of essential fatty acids necessary for healthy blood sugar levels, good moods and memory.

nuggetSome of the major culprits

Chicken Nuggets.

Malignant dollops of sheer nastiness wrapped in bread-crumbs, they are loaded with carbs and deep fried in trans-fat. The latter has been linked to cell membrane deformities and type 2 diabetes. Throw into the mix additives such as MSG and butylhydroquinone – and you have a snack fit only for a Borgias family picnic.

Processed meats

Generally devoid of any of the nutritional value it had to begin with, due to the extreme heat and pressure it has been subjected to. Plus it’s been packed with salts, MSG, sodium nitrate (as we’ve already discussed – falling under the definition of “bad, m’kay”), artificial flavours and other not-so-goodness. Eat a hot dog and you’re playing with fire (regardless of whether you’re eating it with mustard or not).

Breakfast Cereals

Okay anything marketing itself as “just like a chocolate milkshake only crunchy” is obviously a killer. But even breakfast cereals marketed as “healthy” have been found to contain vast amounts of sugar – and low amounts of nutrients and protein. *Cough, cough* Nutri-Grain *cough, cough*.


Mum, you oughta be congratulated … for overloading us with trans-fat.


Potato Chips

Loaded with preservatives, salt and calories … conversely lacking in any sort of nutritional value. Ditto French Fries (it gives us no joy in acknowledging).

But hey, processed foods aren’t all bad

In the interests of balance: let us say we can’t fault the phenomenon, completely. Processing has, after all, improved the availability of many foods, thereby alleviating food shortages and (at least initially) bringing improvements to nutrition.

Oh and remember that there are processed foods that are actually good for you. Milk, anyone? Check out also foods such as oatmeal, frozen fish and canned salmon which define themselves as a processed food, without actually systematically wreaking havoc on your body.

Richie is a Sydney based writer with sophistication, flair and hair. Aside from blogging and writing for Appliances Online and Big Brown Box, he is also a new playwright who had his first play, ‘The Local’ performed last year at the Sydney Fringe Festival. He is also the wicketkeeper for the Gladstone Hotel Cricket Club and his favourite appliance is any 3D Blu-ray Home Theatre System that can be delivered to his house free-of-charge in the near future. He was the lead singer of Van Halen in 2002. Google+

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