We live in a society of instant gratification in every way and that extends to our food as well. We want our food right now, without any effort or time involved. We want to grab it off a shelf, open a box, pop it in the microwave and eat in less then 2 minutes. While this may be convenient in busy, stressful lifestyles, it is also reeking havoc on your health. When you make foods from scratch there aren’t a whole lot of ingredients to include except your basic pantry supplies. However, pre-made, pre-packaged foods contain dozens of ingredients, most of which are extremely harmful to your health
1 Added Sugars & Syrups
Added sugars are those that do not naturally occur in food. Examples include high fructose corn syrup, malt, maple, fruit juice concentrates, dextrose, maltose, molasses, raw sugars & table sugar. You will be shocked to discover that almost all processed products have added sugars. We are addicted to sweet! So why is that a problem? Sugar is toxic to the body. Unlike naturally occurring sugars, like those found in fruits, added sugars create an acidic environment in the body which creates fertile ground for disease, feed cancer creation and growth, interfere with normal metabolism, cause rapid, unbalanced weight retention, interfere with normal nervous system processes causes mood imbalance, cause adrenal fatigue and promotes premature aging.
Dr. Mercola points out why Fructose in particular is especially damaging to the body.
Fructose elevates uric acid, which decreases nitric oxide, raises angiotensin, and causes your smooth muscle cells to contract, thereby raising your blood pressure and potentially damaging your kidneys.
Increased uric acid also leads to chronic, low-level inflammation, which has far-reaching consequences for your health. For example, chronically inflamed blood vessels lead to heart attacks and strokes; also, a good deal of evidence exists that some cancers are caused by chronic inflammation. (See the next section for more about uric acid.)
Fructose tricks your body into gaining weight by fooling your metabolism—it turns off your body’s appetite-control system. Fructose does not appropriately stimulate insulin, which in turn does not suppress ghrelin (the “hunger hormone”) and doesn’t stimulate leptin (the “satiety hormone”), which together result in your eating more and developing insulin resistance.
Fructose rapidly leads to weight gain and abdominal obesity (“beer belly”), decreased HDL, increased LDL, elevated triglycerides, elevated blood sugar, and high blood pressure—i.e., classic metabolic syndrome.
Fructose metabolism is very similar to ethanol metabolism, which has a multitude of toxic effects, including NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). It’s alcohol without the buzz.
2 Unhealthy Fats ~ Hydrogenated, Partially Hydrogenated, Trans & Saturated
Your body needs healthy fat for a myriad of body processes including making hormones and nervous system function. However, all fats are not created equal. Healthy fats or essential fatty acids are those found in cold water fish, nuts, seeds and healthy oils such as flax, olive and hemp. Unhealthy fats are Saturated fats found in meat, full-fat dairy, palm, poultry skin, and animal products. Trans fats are found in hydrogenated & partially hydrogenated oils. It is poison to your body. Think, fried foods, margarine, fast food, cookies, processed food, crackers, chips, and snack foods.
The danger to our health comes when we eat fats that have been damaged by heat, oxygen, and unnatural farming practices. Damaged fats can lead to injury to the walls of our blood vessels, promoting a build-up of plaque that heals the injured areas. It is this build-up of plaque that impairs blood circulation and paves the way to heart disease and other chronic illnesses.
If you do eat animal products, organic is vital. The difference in organic and non-organic animal foods is significant. As an example, look at the difference between organic and non-organic eggs. Our body functions best when we eat an equal balance of the two fatty acids: omega-6 and omega-3. Having too much omega-6 and too little omega-3 leads to numerous health problems, including generalized inflammation, high blood pressure, depressed immune function, weight gain, an irritated intestinal tract, and a tendency to form blood clots. An organic egg, one that comes from a hen allowed to eat green plants and insects, contains an optimal ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids of 1:1. A commercial supermarket egg from a hen that is fed mainly grain in a factory-farm environment has a ratio closer to 15 or 20:1 which creates an internal imbalances that leads to inflammation and chronic disease.
3 Food Additives ~ Dyes, Colorings & Flavorings
Many food additives and flavorings are used to trick taste buds into believing flavors are present that aren’t or are more intense than they actually are, saving manufactures’ money otherwise spent on real flavors. Food flavorings are also used to restore the taste naturally present in foods, but lost during processing. Long term, these flavorings cause tremendous damage to your taste buds and smell centers, deadening and causing them not to function properly. Full functionality of your sense of taste allows you to fully appreciate the flavor and palatability of foods, and also acts as an early warning sign against toxins, polluted air, smoke and spoiled food products. Food poisoning and food borne illness have both become an increasing epidemic in the U.S. When most Americans taste buds are deadened this is not a big surprise. In the elderly, a loss of the sense of taste can lead to weight loss, malnutrition, impaired immunity and worsening of medical illness.
Natural flavorings are often made using just as many chemical manipulations as artificial flavorings. In some cases, there are no distinguishable differences between natural and artificial flavorings. The term “natural” is able to be used because at some point a natural substance was used, but this does not indicate the end product is in any way natural. MSG, monosodium glutamate, is a common food additive used in processed foods as a flavor enhancer that tricks the taste buds into believing there is more of a flavor then is actually present. MSG has been shown to cause headaches, nausea, weakness, difficulty breathing, drowsiness, rapid heartbeat and chest pains in many.
Artificial colorings added to processed foods also pose a serious health risk especially to children. In 2007, a study published in the Lancet found a mix of four artificial food colors and preservatives, including sodium benzoate, aggravated hyperactivity in two groups of children that did not have ADHD. The two groups were a group of 3 year olds and a group of 8-9 year olds. Another study published in Discover magazine in 2008, found that common food additives were shown to double children’s hyperactivity. The European Union, who tends to be light years ahead of the U.S.’s FDA in health matters, acted to place warning labels that state “May have an adverse effect on the activity and attention in children.” on foods containing six artificial colors including Yellow #5, #10, #6 and Red #3, #7 and #40, commonly used here in the U.S. without any warning to consumers.
Dyes, colorings and flavorings added to foods cause a myriad of health problems. Citrus Red 2, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2 and Green 3, –which are some of the most commonly used artificial food colorings–have all been identified as being, or being contaminated with, potential cancer-causing chemicals, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. And Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 are known to trigger reactions in those with allergies.
Food additives have been shown to cause other health problems outside of hyperactivity in children. A Paper published in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology theorizes that the increase in Irritable Bowel Disorders in Canada, in recent years, may be related to the impairments of digestive proteases, caused by the inhibition of healthy gut bacteria by dietary chemicals. Especially noted, in the study, were the use of saccharin and sucralose. The study showed that these food additives increased the pH level of the intestines, thereby reducing the amount of good bacteria in the intestine by over 50%.
Preservatives are used in processed foods to keep them good for weeks, months and often years. Preservatives are man-made chemicals that have been shown to have severely negative consequences to our health. Sulfites, a common food preservative, found most often in dried fruits, processed vegetables, canned soups and other packaged foods, are known to destroy vitamin B1, but more alarmingly have been shown to cause severe allergic respiratory reactions, sometimes resulting in fatal respiratory failure, most especially in those most sensitive, such as those with asthma or other allergic type conditions.
“Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) are currently being investigated for their potential to damage genetic material and therefore promote cancer. BHT has been shown to induce tumors in the stomach and liver in animals, when used at high levels. Although this preservative is allowed in foods at a low level per food, it is one of the most common preservatives, and is present in many processed foods. The amount consumed in the entire diet may be higher than the “permitted” level per food and remains a concern by many scientists.”
Our body naturally needs sodium for cell regulation In fact, it is the precise balance between sodium and potassium that allows cells to create energy and go about their normal metabolic functions. When however, this balance is disturbed cell function is severely compromised. When there is too much sodium and not enough potassium toxins are not permitted to pass out of the cells and so they stay trapped within the cell structure. This prevents cells from creating energy or metabolizing correctly. Sodium in large quantities is a toxin to the body because it also inhibits enzymes from working properly. Enzymes are what drive or allow all body processes to occur. When you continually increase sodium in the body, the cells are brought out of balance which is the beginning of all chronic disease.
Plant based foods naturally contain the exact amount sodium our body needs. However, processed foods relay heavily on increased amounts of sodium for preservation and to increase the taste lost through the processing process.
The best approach to your nutrition is to eat natural foods that don’t contain any ingredients or to prepare your own foods with fresh, natural ingredients. If you are buying a packaged food it is imperative to read labels carefully. If you do not recognize or can’t pronounce an ingredient, leave the product on the shelf. Buying organic eliminates most of these harmful ingredients. Organic foods by definition are not permitted to include any of these harmful ingredients. Be a smart consumer and know what you are putting into your body.