Why is processed food such a problem?

Please read this, if only to get to the notes at the bottom which may help you lose weight and feel healthier. This is not a post banging on about the damaging effects of sugar etc. Etc. It is hopefully designed as a window to help you appreciate what's going on so that you can make an informed choices, which when add up should result in improved health.  

Why is processed food so bad?  

Briefly, let's go back to how things were, let's call it a paleo time, for arguments sake. We were hunter gatherers, we ate some meat (note not all meat) some wild veg and fruits etc. We foraged for food and it was all unprocessed. We ate whatever we could find, and crucially we became very adaptable and able to consume pretty much anything. 

But as we know as society grew in it's ability to do most things food processing increased. We worked out how to refine things, this is the key. Salt, sugar, fats etc. Things which previously had been bound up within various foods were now extracted. This started to become a problem. Salt not so much, this was done for millennia to help preserve food, but sugar and fat were being allowed to be consumed in a completely different way. 

This is when people started getting fat, the rich, who loved sugar particularly, and even more the combination of fat and sugar, got fat, it was a sign of wealth.  

But why? 

Why does refining sugar cause a problem?  

I read a fantastic article which although a tad biased in places gave a great view as to why this is the case and it all comes down to what happens in your cell.  

Here is the article -  


In a nutshell -  

  • cells use b vitamins to produce energy from sugar  
  • whole foods (grains etc. ) provide both b vitamins and sugar  
  • refined sugar does not, so depletes cells of vitamins  
  • cell struggles to process all the un-vitamined food  
  • cells also need magnesium/zinc etc.  
  • Same process as above as many whole foods contain this.  
  • We become nutrient hungry as we become magnesium deficient (and other nutrients)  
  • We slow body processes deemed unnecessary  


So this is one argument as to why it's a problem. 

Argument two  - homogenisation 

Homogenisation is the process of making everything the same,  essentially liquidisation is homogenisation. This is a massive problem because our digestion begins in the mouth, as we chew our food. As we chew this happens - 

  • We prime the digestion system with enzymes etc.  
  • We prepare the body for nutrients through the phase 1 insulin response  
  • This phase one response seems to govern how we deal with the subsequent food
  • If you don't chew a sugar/carb meal then you don't produce enough insulin when the sugar hits the blood - this is a massive problem and could be driving diabetes 
  • Chewing also improves blood flow to the brain, dementia accelerates when sufferers stop chewing food  

Ever wondered why protein shakes make you fart? 

Its because you don't chew them! This means there are less proteases, the enzyme that breaks down the protein in your gut, therefore more protein gets through to the bacteria at the bottom of your gut and hey presto, horrible smelling wind!  

Processed food is heavily homogenised and we don't chew it most of the time! 

By the way, it takes 30-40 chews to initiate the right response, count them next time, you'll be suprosed how few you are taking.  


Argument Three - it's been designed in a lab

Not all processed food has been though a lab, but lots of it has.  

This lab has 2 purposes -  

  • Stop the food from killing you (preservatives) 
  • Make you want to eat more of it

We cannot get away from this fact, that health food is not designed to make you healthy it's designed to make you buy it. This is a large part of why we over-eat these foods.  

Argument Four  - Flavour Enhancement 

As a continuation of the above it turns out the right combination of some of the preservatives used in food production (including salt) increase food flavour and drive reward/wanting to eat more of said food! 

This can be as basic as the classic flavour of salted caramel, it's a tantalising taste that your brain just can't work out, is it salty? Is it sweet? So it wants more!  


Argument Five - We are designed to eat high calorie food for survival  

This is an important point. IF we can consume more energy then we can burn more energy, this is how the brain and body works. So eating more gives us the rewards of sex, children etc. So we driven to eat what we can find in our environment. This wasn't an issue when we didn't have much, but with Morrisons over the road and a relatively cheap food supply I think you can see the problem. 


So the issues with processed food may not be quite as they appear. 

Here is the go to guide.  

  • Limit processed foods where you can
  • Pick your battles - don't spend hours making mayonnaise if you don't have it often, spend that time wisely and prepare veg etc. Instead.  
  • Appreciate that food is designed to make you eat more, so choose how much you want to eat and stick to it.  
  • Eat slowly! It should take 30 minutes to eat a meal not 5!  
  • Chew your food thoughroughly
  • Don't drink smoothies/shakes if you can avoid it, if not then make them thick and chunky. This means you have to chew them slowly. OR eat a smoothie with a carrot/celery on the side which you have to chew. 
  • Avoid protein powders if whole food proteins are available. Same goes for liquid proteins like milk etc.  
  • Enjoy a bit of sugar and sweetness occasionally, but don't eat the cheap rubbish, either make your own brownie or get a small amount of the best one you can find. Bad economy? Yes! But better for your health than the whole back of cheap nasty Jaffa cakes that your brain tells you taste good.  
  • Try an unprocessed minimal sweet diet for a month, trust me you will find processed food quite chemically and off putting.  
  • Enjoy the process of processing (cooking) your own food!  

Have a great weekend!