Pretty much everyone knows that processed food is bad for your health. Really, this should not be a surprise to anyone at this point. However, are you really aware of all the reasons why these foods are bad for your health? Do you know what processed food and carbs actually do when they make their way inside your body? What are the long-term effects of such products? The reality is that in order to really avoid such foods, if we can even call them that, is to understand what they are made of and what effects they have on the human body.
First of all, let’s start with determining exactly what these nasty yet often tasty, processed carbs are. Most often, it’s the comfort foods that we have grown to love all our lives. The pizza, French fries, white bread, sugary desserts, and pre-packaged foods that often are marketed for comfort and convenience to make our lives easier. Convenient and fast sure they are, but slowly killing us, most definitely so.
In fact, it is these refined carbs and sugars that are wreaking havoc on both the inside and outside of our bodies and have been for quite some time now. A lifetime of consuming such foods have led generations of people to battle diseases and die slow, painful deaths.
So the question remains if these foods taste so good and are often advertised as fat-free, why are they so bad for us?
Let’s take a closer look.
Why are processed foods so bad for our health?
Processed foods contain refined carbohydrates and sugars. These are grains that have been completed stripped of any of the nutritional value that they may have once had. Items like white bread, pizza dough, and pastries. Even flour, white rice, and desserts like cake, cookies, and even muffins. All are filled with processed chemicals when bought pre-packaged.
All of these foods are digested very quickly within the human body and have zero bran, fiber, and nutrients to fuel it with. So, what does this mean? What happens when we ingest them? Well, these refined carbs turn to sugar almost immediately and create a spike in the blood sugar index of the body. These spikes cause fluctuations in our moods, energy and eventually build up as layers of fat most often around our waistline.
What’s more, is that it’s a vicious cycle. When you eat refined carbs, your bloodstream is then filled with sugar that triggers your body to produce insulin to clear that sugar from your blood. This surge of insulin actually leaves you feeling hungry rather soon after and even craving sugary carbs again! This is the cycle that produces type 2 diabetes and much of the cardiovascular disease we see today. People who eat diets high in refined carbs and sugar also tend to have issues with high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. It had even been linked to hyperactivity in children and suicide in teens.
Now cutting back on carbs may seem like a big task, but the key is to cut out the refined carbs and focus on filling your diet with complex carbs. Meaningless fast food and pre-packaged food and more raw, natural, and close to the earth type foods. Complex carbs like vegetables, whole grains, and fruit that are naturally sweet all digest slower and, as a result, keep your blood sugar more stable and, in turn, gives you less fat accumulation.
So, to ensure that you are on the right track, let’s dive in and take a look at what are the good carbs vs. the bad carbs.
Carbohydrates are pretty much the body’s primary sources of energy. For most of us, anyway. However, there are movements such as keto and low carb that involve eating more healthy fats, thus allowing the body to run on those fats instead of carbs and sugar. This is a keto-based lifestyle, and it has proven to have great health results. Want to know more about the keto diet? Check out our article HERE.
Whether you are following a keto or low carb lifestyle or not, the carbs that you do choose should be complex and unrefined, never processed. These complex carbs are the ones that are high in nutrients and fiber. This can prevent serious diseases like cancer and guard against cardiovascular and diabetes issues as we age.
Good carbs include some of the following:
Unrefined Whole Grains
- Whole wheat bread
- Multigrain bread
- Brown rice
- Bran cereal
- Green beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Kidney beans
- Baked beans
- Citrus fruit
If you are unsure about how to start switching out the refined carbs that you have been consuming for healthier options. Here are some good ways to begin.
- Pasta is one of the easiest switches! Change your regular pasta to whole grain pasta, or if you really want to make a difference, change to spaghetti squash!
- Breakfast cereal filled with sugar and chocolate? An easy switch to high fiber and low sugar options. Change up that fake sweetness for dates and other dried fruits or berries for a low sugar option.
- Instant oatmeal can easily be changed out for steel-cut oats or rolled oats.
- White bread to whole grain or whole wheat bread.
- If you have been eating white rice, switch it out for brown or wild rice or even cauliflower.
- White potatoes (in any format: mashed, fries, etc… can be changed up for cauliflower mash and sweet potatoes.
- Corn can be left behind to make room for leafy greens!
- Potato chips and corn chips removed and nuts brought in! Even crunchy raw veggies with dips make a nice change.
One of the things that people tend to underestimate is the amount of sugar they are consuming each day. Added sugar is empty calories that are being piled into your body. But more than that, it is harmful to your health and puts you at risk for disease and pain.
However, the biggest issue is that most people don’t think they are consuming all that much sugar at all! Unless they are counting the spoonful that they add to their coffee or the dessert after dinner, many of us don’t realize that there are hidden sugars everywhere! And particularly in processed carbs. This is why all processed carbs should be avoided at all costs.
What we don’t always realize is that our bodies get all the sugar they need from the naturally occurring sugars in fruits. And this is why we need to be mindful of the other hidden sugars in white bread and pasta, sodas and packaged foods.
How can we be more aware of this problem? Well, here are a few tips to consider!
Reduce your sugar slowly
By slowly reducing the sugar in your diet, you can give your taste buds time to adjust and slowly be weaned off of the cravings.
Less takeout and more home-cooked meals.
By preparing more of your own food at home, you can ensure that you and your family eat fresh, wholesome meals without added sugar. When you know exactly what the ingredients are, you’re more likely to make better choices!
Give your traditional recipes a makeover.
Many dessert recipes taste just as good with less sugar or even with natural substitutes like sweetening with dates or honey instead of white sugar. Yes, these options are still sugars, but it’s not processed sugar.
Avoid sugary, carbonated drinks—even those diet soda versions.
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame can still trigger sugar cravings that contribute to weight gain, and they are also linked to higher risks of cancer. Instead of soda, try adding a splash of fruit juice to sparkling water. There are even machines that carbonate water on the spot!
Avoid processed or packaged foods.
Between 75% and 85% of pre-packaged food found at the grocery store contain added sugar. This includes canned soups, frozen dinners, and even low-fat meals! It’s best to avoid them all and make your own or opt for healthier food choices.
Be careful when eating out.
Most gravy, dressings, and sauces are packed with sugar, so ask for it to be served on the side or better yet not at all. Salad dressing can be changed to oil and balsamic vinegar, for example-a much better and lower processed and sugar-filled option.
Eat healthier snacks.
Cut down on sweet snacks such as candy, chocolate, and cakes. Instead, satisfy your sweet tooth with naturally sweet food such as fruit, peppers, or natural peanut and almond butter. Other naturally sweet options are dried fruits, berries, and smoothies.
Create your own frozen treats.
This is a great one for hot summers and young kids. Instead of sugary sweet popsicles, make your own! It’s as simple as freezing pure fruit juice in an ice-cube tray with plastic spoons as popsicle handles. Or make frozen fruit kabobs using pineapple chunks, bananas, grapes, and berries.
Check labels of all the packaged food you buy.
Choose low-sugar products—but be aware that manufacturers often try to hide sugar on labels. More on this to come!
Processed Carbs that Contain Hidden Sugars
Once you have all this under control, then you may think that if you don’t see sugar or it’s not listed as a sugar in the ingredient list, then you will be okay ad be able to avoid it. Not always the case… Read on to learn how to spot hidden sugars in pre-packaged carb-filled processed foods.
- The manufacturers are required to provide the total amount of sugar on their labels. However, they do not have to differentiate between added sugar and sugar that is naturally in the food. This results in inaccurate sugar counts.
- Added sugars are listed in the ingredients but aren’t always easy to recognize. If only it said words like sugar, honey, or molasses all the time! Sadly, it didn’t, and added sugar can also be listed as corn sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, cane crystals, invert sugar, or any kind of fructose, dextrose, lactose, maltose, or syrup. Not to mention many other long and unpronounceable words!
Basically, when it comes down to it, the only way to avoid these disease-causing hidden sugars that reside in pre-packaged processed carbs is to eat food that is as close to its natural state as possible.