The Unhealthy Truth About Processed Foods

The National Institute of Nutrition (NIN), Hyderabad – defines processed food as foods that are subjected to technological modifications either for preservation or for converting into ready-to-use/eat foods, eliminating laborious household procedures, are called “processed foods.”

Some of the examples are ready mixes, dehydrated foods, pasta products, canned foods, confectioneries, bakery, dairy products, and breakfast foods like breakfast cereals.

There is an increased demand for processed, ready-to-eat, and convenience foods due to changes in lifestyle. As more and more women go to work outside, and families have become nuclear, consumption of processed foods, particularly in urban areas, will be on the increase. Today’s consumer is looking for convenient, easy-to-cook, and ready-to-eat foods which require less time to prepare than traditional home-cooked foods.

Food processing is must to preserve highly perishable products like milk, meat, fish and fresh fruits and vegetables. Food processing increases the seasonal availability of foods and enables easy transportation and distribution over long distances.

Processed foods are generally consumed either as part of a meal, or as a snack item. Their contribution in terms of essential nutrients depends on the type of processing and fortification, the frequency of use, and the quantity consumed.

Processed foods are generally refined and a majority of them are rich in salt & sugar and contain ingredients like refined oils, corn flour etc. which are to be avoided. They lack healthy fats, dietary fibre, micronutrients.

Thus, caution needs to be exercised when processed foods constitute a major part of the meal. Breakfast cereals are increasingly being used these days. Wholesome breakfast items like Rolled Oats, Millets, Chillas made from wholegrains are rich in fibre, healthy fats, complex carbs & essential vitamin & minerals.

Food items like chips, candies, peppermints, chocolates, etc. which are popular among children, are considered as unhealthy since, they provide only empty calories often containing artificial colors and other additives. Their use should be discouraged.

Frequent consumption of unhealthy processed food increases calorie intake without providing any nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. As per the research conducted by NCBI consumption of processed foods have damaging effect on health. Apart from being non-nutritious, processed foods also contain food additives. Food additives consumed beyond permissible limits may have adverse effects on health.

Processed foods, tend to be high in sugar, artificial ingredients, refined carbohydrates, and trans fats. Because of this, they are a major contributor to obesity and illness around the world. These foods now account for 25–60% Trusted Source of a person’s daily energy intake throughout much of the world.

In the fast-paced life it is always not possible to avoid processed foods so if at all one has to consume go for fortified processed foods.

Purchase trends of processed foods and beverages in urban India as per research done by NCBI- Beyond staples, purchases of processed foods and beverages for home use are low.

  • Fastest rate of growth seen in sweet and salty snacks, and edible oil purchases.
  • Highest volume of processed foods and beverages purchased by Delhi population.
  • Large variations across states in level and trends of purchases over time.

How to cut down processed foods?

Read the label before you buy. Always check the nutrition facts, expiry date before purchasing any product. Avoid foods with sugar, deep fried foods, high salt-containing foods, refined carbs, trans fat etc. Shopping for grocery don’t buy ready to eat foods or instant foods. Home-cooked meals are healthier and better. Don’t snack on packet foods, instead do so with wholesome food such as nuts, fruits, seeds, or vegetables over a bag of chips (western/fried snacks).

  • Go for multi-grain bread or wheat bread over white bread that’s maida based.
  • Choose filtered or cold pressed oil over refined oil.
  • Choose whole fruit over canned juices.
  • Choose fortified processed foods.

Most of your meals should be whole foods meals. 1-2 meals comprising of protein shake or energy bars is ok. Strike a right balance.

As per WHO –

  • Your healthy diet should limit intake of natural & added sugar to less than 10% of total energy intake.
  • Minimize salt intake to less than 5 g per day (equivalent to sodium intake of less than 2 g per day) this prevents hypertension & reduces the risk of heart disease & stroke in the adults.
  • Make a conscious choice of what you eat & purchase.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle for a healthy future. Your diet is the investment for your body.

Stay healthy stay fresh!

Nt Shruti Sethna
Certified Sports Nutritionist

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