SNACK ATTACK. At lunch, junior Lily Tackzak enjoys a bag of Doritos. photo/ Sydney Schad
SNACK ATTACK. At lunch, junior Lily Tackzak enjoys a bag of Doritos. photo/ Sydney Schad

Ingredients in processed food pose health risks unrevealed from the companies who make them.

Processed foods refer to foods that are packaged in boxes, cans or bags. They cause health problems like overeating and addiction, linked to infertility, cancer, malnutrition and obesity along with causing problems in the brain and affecting consumers’ mood.

“Processed foods have preservatives and other artificial ingredients to extend their shelf life that are linked to cause health problems later on,” AP Environmental teacher Allyssa Taylor said. “They are also generally high in sugar and fats and are easy to over consume, leading to obesity.”

The havoc processed foods cause the human body is a closely guarded secret that the processed food industry does not want its consumers to know. Foods like chips, candy, cookies and processed dips contain harmful artificial sweeteners, synthetic trans fat and high-fructose corn syrup.

Unlike whole foods, which usually contain a balanced mix of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, fiber and water to sustain a human, processed foods stimulate dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes the body feel artificially good even though it lacks the proper nutrition.

When the artificial dopamine stimulation wears off, the body experiences intense food cravings, and ultimately leads to food addiction.

“It is important to know what people are actually eating and to know the damage those chemicals do to their bodies,” junior Genesis Ordonez said.

Processing of a food modifies or removes important components like fiber, water and nutrients and fills it with artificial ingredients and flavors. This process changes the way the body digests and assimilates the food.

“Many products have gelatin, insects or other animal byproducts which is a concern for me since I am vegetarian. Processed foods tend to have MSG, BHA, nitrates, dyes, high-fructose corn syrup and many ingredients people tend to not think are in their food,” Taylor said.

Additives like MSG (monosodium glutamate), high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners increase insulin and leptin levels in the body and contribute to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the primary underlying factor of nearly every chronic disease and condition, including weight gain.

Processed food disrupts the human inner ecosystem, like the digestive tract. They suppress beneficial micro flora and often lead to digestive problems, cravings, illnesses and chronic disease. Avoiding artificial sweeteners, colors and BHA can improve one’s health since they all have been linked to cancer and trans fat for heart health.

Although processed foods have health concerns, uneducated people continue to consume processed products.

To sell more processed foods, grocery stores strategically place processed goods in the middle of the store on shelves while they put fruits and vegetables along with other natural snacks out of the way in outer aisles.

Sugary cereals and snacks are placed on lower levels to insure that children see them. Processed foods allure young children and parents. They tend to be on-the-go snacks kids can eat anywhere like Lunchables, Goldfish, Pop-tarts and Yoplait Go-Gurts.

“I believe it is hard nowadays to avoid processed goods. There are several ways to prevent it, like buying all organic foods, growing a vegetable garden and avoiding fast food restaurants,” Ordonez said.

Not only do processed foods affect people physically, they take a toll on mental health as well.

A heavily processed-food diet can cause mood swings, memory problems and even depression. The greatest concentration of serotonin is found in the intestines. Considered a natural mood stabilizer, it can help with a variety of bodily functions like sleeping, eating and digesting. When serotonin levels are low, people experience depression, and when they are high, people experience happiness. Eating a well-balanced diet helps keep leveled serotonin levels.

Refined sugar and processed fructose contribute to insulin and leptin resistance, which also plays a significant role in mental health.

Although a processed item may read ‘natural’ or ‘sugar free,’ that does not mean it is healthy. “Natural” products can be legally genetically modified and full of pesticides or made with corn syrup, additives, preservatives and artificial ingredients.

Pick products with zero trans fat, low saturated fat and low sodium levels, and load up on foods that contain 3g or more of fiber. Fiber-rich diets help curb appetite and cholesterol.

Although whole foods cost more, avoiding processed foods and replacing them with fresh foods lead to a happier and healthier life for the future.

“Read ingredients before you buy, research and become educated about how food is made and where it comes. Also, try to shop on outer aisles and make more meals instead of buying packages or eating out,” Taylor said.

Stopping the consumption of processed foods can lead to experiencing a variety of personal health benefits such as having more energy, losing weight, improving regularity or just feeling healthier overall.

For more information about processed food health concerns, go to Healthline.com.

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