EFFECTS OF PROCESSED FOODS
Dr Ifeanacho Abireh, MBBS, MSc, PGDE, MWACS, MISSM
WHAT IS PROCESSED FOOD?
Strictly speaking, processed food is any food that the natural form has been altered. That is to say that something has been added or subtracted from the food. For example, when you get a bitter leaf and you wash it, squeeze and remove the bitter part of it. You have changed it from its natural form to a processed form. When you fry groundnut, you have made it a processed food.
For the purpose of this discussion we are going to limit the definition of processed food to the ones that certain chemicals have been added to it and the natural form changed for various purposes. Some of which are beneficial while others that were intended to be beneficial end up becoming harmful.
WHY DO PEOPLE PROCESS FOODS?
There are various reasons why people process foods. Some of the reasons include, but not restricted to the following.
For better storage:
During storage some foods may be invaded by insects or microorganisms. These may destroy the foods and make them unhealthy for consumption. So to help protect the foods from insects and microorganisms that may damage them, foods are processed before storage.
Some foods when left or stored for a long time in their natural form lose their quality. So most people process foods in order to prevent decay and maintain its quality over a longer duration during storage.
Improve nutritional content:
Some foods in their natural form may lack some nutrients. These foods may be processed in order to add or augment the essential nutrients they may be lacking, such as vitamins, proteins, minerals, etc.
Make them easier to cook or eat:
Some foods are cooked to a point where they only require few minutes to be ready for consumption before they are packaged. Thus after buying these type of processed foods, it will require just few minutes to get it fully prepared and ready to eat. For example, noodles, tomato paste. Some foods are already fully cooked and ready to eat before they are packaged. For example, Sardines.
Make them safe:
Some foods require to be processed before consumption. Processing will make it safe. Some foods are perishable and will require processing to keep them safe till the time of consumption.
From the various reasons why people process foods listed above, we can see that it is intended for our good. But some end up being harmful to us, unfortunately.
SO WHAT ARE THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF PROCESSED FOODS?
Inappropriate amount of nutrient:
Processed foods usually contain very large quantities of sugar. This has various deleterious effects such as obesity, vascular diseases, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.
Processed foods are also not very rich in vitamins and other very important nutrients. So people who consume large quantities of processed foods without natural foods may become malnourished due to lack of balanced diet.
Processed foods usually contain a lot of unwanted chemicals. These chemicals are used for preservation of the food. Some are used to colour it or even to give it a pleasing flavor. These unwanted chemicals are usually dangerous to the body.
May cause cancers:
Most of the processed foods do not have fibres. Fibres are stuffs like vegetables, fruits, grains. Fibres pass freely and very fast too along the intestine. But processed foods pass slowly. So the time it takes for processed foods to pass through the gut is higher than the time it takes foods that have fibres. This allows more time for the chemicals used to process the foods to interact with the walls of the intestine. This interaction may alter the configuration of the cells of the intestines and lead to formation of cancers.
Some processed foods may become infected due to storage in containers that are air tight. This is usually by microorganisms that thrive where there is no air. Those that are stored in the open, such as locally processed meat (Suya), are even more readily infected. This may lead to fatal health issues and even death when eaten.
Consumption of processed foods may lead to addiction. I have heard many people, on several occasion, say they cannot survive for a day without taking soft drinks. This is because some of the contents of these processed foods are added by the producers to make you crave for them. The more we buy the more money they make. As we already know addiction is very bad and should be avoided. Imagine being addicted and taking in all these chemicals used to preserve, flavour or colour the foods on a daily basis. Addiction should be avoided by taking only little or no processed food.
Most foods we eat have gone through some level of processing. And it is very difficult to avoid processed food entirely. But haven discussed the beneficial and harmful effects of processed foods, I think everyone should strive to limit, or avoid, the consumption of processed food.