From a practical point of view, most of the products we use in our daily lives are created through the utilization of processed chemicals. The processing industry is estimated to employ over 500 million people worldwide. In the US alone, the food and beverage industry is said to employ over one million people. Of course, these numbers don’t include the number of people working in the retail or service sectors where chemicals are also used. With such large-scale usage, it is no wonder that numerous health problems occur as a direct result.
Most processed food is high in sugar and fat. This makes it difficult for us to maintain a balanced diet. Yet, many of us choose to munch on processed foods because we don’t like to cook and because we enjoy the taste. Processed foods and snacks are commonly available everywhere from fast food outlets to your favorite boutique; and they are usually prepared using highly processed ingredients including high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and hydrogenated oils. Needless to say, most people who eat too much processed food are likely to experience a myriad of health issues.
There are many health risks associated with eating too many processed foods. The biggest threat is that these chemicals leech nutrients from our healthy foods, thus shortening their shelf life. Short shelf life of processed chemicals means less of those nutrients you get to benefit from in your body. For example, refined sugar leeches nutrients from whole foods such as fruits and vegetables. Thus, the longer processed foods stay in the store shelves, the fewer nutrients they are likely to get to you.
Another risk is contamination with toxins and carcinogens, as well as cancer-causing agents. According to one study, nearly eighty percent of the chemicals used in the United States are either carcinogenic or toxic. Additionally, a report was released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) detailing the many types of chemicals that are used in the manufacture of plastic and polystyrene products. Among the most widely found were bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and parabens.
It is clear that processed foods are not as beneficial to human health as natural foods. So, what can we do? One answer is to make sure you buy only organic produce when possible. Organic foods are generally free of chemicals, as are most green items. In addition, avoiding food additives such as trans fats and sodium is another important step.
With an awareness of chemicals and the damage they can cause, many consumers have taken matters into their own hands. Companies that make their own products, such as Ingersoll Rand and Cargill, are better positioned to control their end-products. For instance, independent grocers can reduce the amount of chemicals used in processing, and in turn offer better-tasting foods at a reduced cost to consumers. However, many large chain retailers still have very high levels of chemical exposure in their products – these companies would benefit from a more comprehensive effort to reformulate their ingredients.
Part of the problem is that so much of the food we eat is higher in calories than we used to consume. Because of this, we often carry around excess body fat. This extra body fat leads to higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and other serious health problems. Processing foods also typically contain high levels of sodium – in some segments of the market, such as canned vegetables, it is impossible to avoid sodium, which makes salt another frequent chemical ingredient. As one can see, the potential health hazards associated with processed foods are real and warrant actions by both consumers and the food industry.
While eating healthy may take some getting used to, it is more than worth the effort for your overall health. With a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, you will find that you feel better and live longer. Processed foods increase your risks for unhealthy living and create unnecessary health risks, but switching to whole foods can dramatically reduce those risks. It is never too late to start improving your diet and taking control of your health. Start today.