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How eating processed food today, affects your tomorrow

In our modern fast-paced society, almost everyone is busy, overloaded with work, and running for meeting deadlines and targets. Limited time to prepare meals and exercise or no time for food preparation and cooking shape many people’s lifestyles today. Nature does not permit us to survive or nourish our bodies without food so the choice left is pre-prepared food, fast food, and takeout or eat snack food instead of meals.

Processed foods are generally refined and most of them are overloaded with fat, sugar, and calories. They lack dietary fiber and micronutrients that are vital to healthy development, disease prevention, and well-being.

Many of the packaged food we purchase at the grocery store meet our tastebud’s requirements, are handy, ready to eat, and save our efforts in cooking but are they really contributing to nourishing our body? Will they be helpful in keeping us healthy throughout our life?

What is processed food?

The nutrient value of food is always altered by processing it. The water-soluble vitamins are the most vulnerable to processing and overcooking. Excessive consumption of ultra-processed foods may result in lower diet quality and low diet quality can result in weight gain in the short term and diet-related diseases in the long term.

Some common short-term effects of a diet filled with fat, salt, and sugar are-

  • Bloating-When you eat too many salty foods, the cells in your body start to hold an excessive amount of water and you begin to feel bloated.
  • Sugar crash-When your diet is overloaded with sugars your body produces a huge amount of insulin to compensate. This can lead to nausea, sweating, and faintness.
  • Decreased focus– Some foods like bread, burger, pasta, and carbonated drinks, releases glucose instantly which requires our digestive system to work harder reducing the oxygen level in the brain and making us dazed.
  • Acid reflux– Too much fatty and spicy food sticks to our stomach for a longer period which results in more acid reflux and heartburn.
  • Poor sleep– Many factors contribute to sound sleep. However, diet plays an important role. Those who consume less fiber and more saturated fats and sugar throughout the day experience worse sleep than those with a more balanced diet.

Long-Term Effects

  • Heart disease and stroke– Heart diseases are identified by blocked blood vessels. You cannot avoid non-modifiable risk factors like age, hereditary, etc but modifiable risk factors can be controlled by a healthy lifestyle. When your diet is unhealthy, it increases the number of cholesterol particles in your blood and plaque starts depositing inside your arteries which ultimately leads to heart attack and strokes.
  • Cancer-Some organizations estimate that approximately 40% of cancer can be avoided by simply maintaining a healthy diet and physical activity. Exposure to carcinogens allows the carcinogen to enter the cell and then alters the cellular DNA. Then cells begin to multiply uncontrolled and tumor formation takes place.

Foods that contain carcinogen and cancer-causing compounds

  • Processed meat-hot dog, salami, sausages
  • Canned tomatoes
  • Soda and carbonated beverages
  • Artificial colors
  • Genetically modified organisms
  • Farmed fish
  • Fried food-French fries and chips
  • Sugary foods and refined carbs-white pasta, white bread, white rice, and sugar-sweetened beverages
  • Teeth and Bone issues-A diet lacking in calcium and vitamin D can make your bones weaker. Continuous insufficiency of these nutrients can lead to osteoporosis and musculoskeletal disorders. An unhealthy diet can also lead to weaker enamel, gum disease, and tooth decay.
  • Obesity-When your diet is made up of excessive salts, fats, and sugars it becomes easy to consume more calories than your body actually requires leading to weight gain and obesity.
  • Type 2 Diabetes-Obesity acts as a catalyst for many other diseases not the least of which is diabetes.
  • Digestive issues-A poor diet lacking in dietary fiber and containing highly refined food can lead to constipation, diverticulosis, and colon cancer.
  • Depression– Your brain works 24/7 even when you sleep. This means your brain requires a constant supply of good fuel. What you eat directly affects the functioning and structure of your brain. A diet that includes a high level of carbs and sugars is associated with a greater level of mood disorder and depression. A healthy diet can help you feel better physically as well as mentally.

“The food we eat and the quantity we eat play an important role in our overall health. You are what you eat, so don’t eat fast, easy and fake food. Eat healthily, be healthy, live healthy because health is the biggest wealth”.

Author Meena Chugh is a certified dietician and nutritionist