Processed foods have become so commonplace in Western society that many people truly do not understand the affect they can have on your health. Especially for people with chronic health conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and kidney disease, eating a diet full of processed foods can do a lot of damage.
Likely because they are so prevalent, most people do not even realize how unhealthily they are eating. You might know truly know which foods are considered processed and unhealthy, especially if their labels indicate otherwise. On top of that, most people just simply do not know what changes to make in their diets to cut these foods out. Most of all, many people do not realize until it is too late how addicted your body can become to all of the added sugars, sodium, and hidden ingredients in processed foods.
Identifying Processed Foods
Most foods are processed in some way, whether they are pre-cooked, ground up, or mixed with other foods. The types of processed foods to look out for are different that simple processes during the cooking process. These foods have long lists of ingredients, most of which are difficult to pronounce or identify. A good rule of thumb is to always read the nutrition label thoroughly, and avoid any products with a laundry list of ingredients that you don't recognize.
Most processed foods can be found on the inside aisles of the grocery store. These foods are cookies and crackers, cereals, and boxed meals and sides. Other than dried goods like plain pasta, rice, and beans, you are better off avoiding most foods that come in a box or bag.
Don't be fooled by clever labeling, either. Just because a box advertises that something is “all natural” or high in fiber, vitamins, and nutrients does not actually mean it is healthy. The hidden ingredients and high sugar and sodium content, not to mention all the chemicals in these foods, often negate any of the healthy benefits touted.
Why Processed Foods are Addictive
It can be very difficult to overcome food addictions, especially when it comes to processed foods.. There are many reasons why people have a hard time kicking the habit of eating these products.
First of all, they are easy. They are easy to find, easy to store, and easy to prepare. They are also exceptionally cheap. Many people find it easier and cheaper to eat ramen and boxed meals for every meal.
More than any of that, however, are the actual physical ramifications of eating these foods. There have been many studies published recently that compare your brain's reaction to eating highly processed foods to that of hard drugs. So not only is everything cheap and easy, but your brain and body are literally addicted to the sugar, sodium, and chemicals in processed foods.
Kicking the Habit
Unfortunately, like any addiction, you will have to go through the discomfort of weaning yourself from your addiction. There are a few things you can do to make it easier for yourself:
Clean out your pantry of all processed food items so you will not be tempted.
Drink lots of water to help flush your body of toxins, if your diet allows it.
Exercise regularly, both to help flush toxins from your system, and also to help take your mind off of your addiction.
Eat a whole foods diet. Fill your plates with fresh produce, real whole grains, beans, and lots of delicious, real food.
Give it time. You are unlikely to kick the habit of any addiction in one day. It will be hard and you may even experience withdrawal symptoms such as sweating, headaches, and near uncontrollable cravings. Just remember that if you can hold out through the worst of the withdrawal, you can be free of your need for addictive processed foods and on your way to a healthier you.
Processed foods are an addiction much like any other, except that the majority of people do not realize they are addicted. The chemicals, high sugar and sodium content, and other hidden ingredients truly do act like a drug to your system. To live the healthiest life possible, and to help treat your chronic health conditions, it is best for you to wean these products from your system and enjoy a whole foods lifestyle. For more information on processed foods, click here.
Also published on Medium.