Home All About Your Body 5 Reasons to Quit Processed Food That Have Nothing To Do With “Chemicals”

5 Reasons to Quit Processed Food That Have Nothing To Do With “Chemicals”

by Erika Nicole Kendall
5 Reasons to Ditch the Processed Food if You're on a Healthy Living Journey

As I suspected would happen years ago, people who are in favor of processed food and other items of questionable nutritional value are fighting back.

I mean, you can only try for so long to back Baby into the corner before Baby stands up for herself, right?

The truth of the matter is that, while companies are actively doing what they can to improve the nutritional quality of their products and talking about it loudly to our faces, they’re still siccing their watchdogs on those of us who are talking about the failures of these products behind our backs. I’ve had faceless, nameless representatives of surreptitiously-funded organizations coming after me and my blog, tracking my writing in major publications for years. It’s only until recently, with the popularity of Vani Hari and her work, that it’s become sport to “attack back,” and virulently so – not just among industry watchdogs, but the general public, as well.

And, as someone going into her seventh (7!!!!!!!) year of writing about living a life devoid of hyperprocessed foodstuffs and whatnot, my work and I are among those up for critique. Over the years, after certifications and courses and conferences (oh my!), I’ve refined my stance. There’s the praxis-focused way to approach food, which is understanding how people move and function with food, and how it either works in their favor or not; and there’s the “chemical”-centered approach, which is about what’s “in” your food and how it can harm your body.

Dare I say it, but I think there’s an argument to be made that what’s missing from your food is just as important – if not more so – than what’s in it. And that’s a much more comprehensible stance than understanding what ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid is.

I can empathize with the public – goodness knows I certainly can – and its frustration. You shouldn’t have to be a scientist to understand what’s in your food. You also shouldn’t have to place so much trust in food manufacturers that they won’t use a potentially hazardous ingredient in your food, or that their facilities are clean enough that their food won’t kill you, or that their products are transported safely enough that they won’t mold before they’re bought, or, or, or….and I understand that. That being said, the argument goes both ways – we’re not all scientists, and we don’t understand what’s in our food. (Yes, this is coming from the person who once famously lamented the presence of “sodium bicarbonate” in her food.)

So — can the same argument be made against processed food without the “chemical” component? You betcha. Watch me whip. (Watch me nae nae? No? Okay.)

1) The absence of fiber. Remember when I wrote about detoxification, and I said,

And, when it comes to going the teas making you go Number Two, of course it’s going to have what could be considered a “slimming effect.” Take a look at where your intestines are situated in your body:

Diagram of the human digestive system, from Atlas of the Human Body

Now, think about the path of digestion. To describe it crudely, in the mouth, down the throat, into the stomach, through the intestines – which are several feet long – and ultimately out the door.

See those intestines? If you eat a lot of food with little fiber, and find that it’s not coming out as fast as you can consume it? Guess what? It sits in your intestines. Where it expands. Thereby expanding your waistline.

So, yes, by going Number 2 – especially if you haven’t in a while – you would be reducing your waistline. And, because the scale doesn’t differentiate between pounds of fat and pounds of poop you’re currently carrying, you’d never know that what you actually lost was stuff that’s been sitting inside you from a week of not pooping… not several pounds of body fat.

All detoxes exploit this, thereby completing the connection between “detoxification” and “weight loss.”

“Not pooping for a week” is unheard of when it comes to someone who eats fresh (or frozen, or canned!) produce regularly. This happens solely because of processed food.

The absence of fiber is 1 of 5 reasons you should ditch processed food. View the rest here. Share on X

Fiber is often stripped out of the manufacturing process because fiber has a shelf life, and the overwhelming majority of processed foods don’t. The bulk of processed food can sit on a shelf for months – in some cases, years – because the stuff that actually expires has been removed from it, but it has been removed with little regard for how it affects the public to now be missing this stuff.

Is it possible to merely take a fiber supplement? I’m going to say no. “Fiber supplement” is, in most cases, simply a fancy word for “laxative,” and laxatives aren’t the move. (Pun intended only if you thought it was funny.) Laxatives force your body to expel nutrients before you’ve had the ability to digest them, and they can only do part of the job.

Fiber always falls under either two categories – it’s either soluble or insoluble. Soluble stuff binds with other stuff to help carry it out of your intestines. Insoluble stuff essentially serves as a brush to clean out your insides. Soluble stuff often can be found in fresh fruit; insoluble stuff is often found in…. dark and leafy vegetables. Like collard greens. Mmmm, collard greens.

The best a laxative can do is do its best to liquefy everything and force it out, but it certainly can’t do what a regular bowl of collard greens (or, like I grew up on, a blend of mustard and turnip greens) or a basket of strawberries can do.

2) The absence of healthy fats, and what kind of fats are present aren’t healthy ones. One of the things you learn early in researching processed food, especially the frozen or freeze-dried kind, is that it takes an increased amount of fat in order to ensure that the product can still taste pleasantly after it has been reheated. This sounds fine, sure, but what kind of fat are they using?

The absence of healthy dietary fat is 1 of 5 reasons you should ditch processed food. View the rest here. Share on X

Only a small number of healthy oils will solidify at all – coconut oil comes to mind – let alone at freezing temperatures and, quite honestly, healthier fats are more expensive to a food manufacturer and more difficult to manage. Not to mention, because of the requirements regarding storage and preservation of healthy oils in a way that doesn’t contribute to their spoilage, healthy oils become more of a burden. There’s just little to no incentive to use them, despite the flavor they provide and the health benefits.

Make no mistake about it, you need fats, but the kind of fat you get matters. Fats serve a nutritional purpose, making it easier for you to absorb nutrients. But some fats don’t do that, instead merely serving as a vessel for more calories and, in some cases, harmful plaque that can line your arteries and contribute to heart disease or worse. Having a dietary fat that has the ability to freeze – or freeze dry, for that matter – was about flavor, not function.

Trans fats raise your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and lower your good (HDL) cholesterol levels. Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. [source]

If it were about function, they would’ve realized the overwhelming majority of these fats never belonged in our food to begin with.

3) The absence of protein. Processed food is often lacking in protein, a key component to satiety, another word for “feeling full.” Historically, protein had been filtered out of processed food in favor of creating meals that had a better “mouthfeel,” and could easily be swallowed down the throat without a bunch of stuff in the teeth.

The lack of protein is one of five reasons why you should give up processed foods. Share on X

Not only that, but removing protein also contributes to people being able to eat more of an item even faster, and because the item is so unfulfilling in a regular serving (not to be linked to “serving size,” which is another nightmare) it makes people more likely to overeat with larger portions, thereby eating all of the item faster, thereby needing them to buy more of it sooner.

That’s not conspiracy – that’s literally just good business on their part. It’s also bad business on the part of the person who might be trying to eat a bit better.

This is largely what contributes to people who merely plan to “eat how they eat, just eating less” sometimes feeling like they’re “going crazy.” They’re eating portions that are more appropriate for their size and their goals, but because it’s leaving them so unfulfilled, it makes it difficult to achieve their goals. That’s because, for many of us, the processed food won’t be able to help us in any way.

It’s also worth noting that, particularly in grains and seeds, the same place you find the protein is the same place you find the fiber… and both are stripped out in favor of the shiny, white alternative. Brown rice in comparison to white rice comes to mind, here.

4) The abundance of sugar. As a recovering binge eater, I am keenly aware of my relationship to sugar, and how it affected my life. Not just my body, but emotionally. I can acknowledge how emotionally stunted I was, because instead of learning how to handle my emotions in my teens and twenties like a soon-to-be-adult, I was drowning my sorrows in Cheez Twisters (I feel like only Ohioans are going to get that reference) and ice cream.

The reality is, that over-consumption of sugar isn’t a bug in the software – it’s a feature.

Sugar began to dominate the ingredients lists of our favorite foods when food manufacturers were charged with the task of reducing the amount of dietary fat in a product, but they soon realized that removing the fat made it taste like cardboard.

No, really. It tastes terrible.

Sugar, fat, and salt are the three key components that contribute to binge eating, which is defined as a habitual pattern of uncontrollable eating. Those are the three items that, as we know thus far, create the compulsive behavior.

But the sugar has the added side effect of contributing to heart disease, diabetes, and even potentially Alzheimer’s. And since food manufacturers have relied on sugar for so long to serve the appealing quality in a food instead of… oh, I don’t know… flavor, the sugar is virtually inescapable.

I mean, unless you start phasing out processed food entirely.

5) The inability for many to achieve satiety. When there’s no fat, no fiber, and no protein in an item, you’re left with little more than simple carbs – highly caloric, easy to over-consume, low on flavor, annnnnd high on sugar? Not only is it easy to over-consume, but the ease with which one can become addicted to foods like this, considering the research that is showing more and more that the brain reacts to sugar in ways similar to how the brain reacts to cocaine, means that it’s a disaster waiting to happen.

Listen. It’s important to remember that there are legitimate reasons related to chemicals – not merely “chemicals” in scare quotes – that are worth considering when it comes to giving up processed food, but I’m also aware of the great lengths to which food manufacturers are going in order to muddy up those truths. It’s important to remember that there are incentives for manufacturers who are being quoted in Fortune and Bloomberg Businessweek, whining about how much money they’re losing and how they can’t keep up or compete with an ever-changing industry, to lie to manipulate the facts.

Sounds like maybe, juuuuust maybe, we should discuss that too, huh?

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Alexis @ Fitnancials July 18, 2015 - 11:25 PM

I’ve been working really hard on cutting my sugar and high fructose corn syrup. I never realized how high the sugar was even in the “healthier” foods I was purchasing.

Erika Nicole Kendall July 20, 2015 - 1:13 PM

I think SO many people would be surprised – part of what makes brands call them “healthier” is that they cut the fat and replace it with sugar….all the while never realizing that we need the fat more than the sugar, just LESS of it! Oy vey.

LoveBrownSugar August 2, 2015 - 7:06 PM

Thank you for this article Erika! All true and I learned so much from reading this. Great information and even more confirmation that it’s time for me to focus more on fresh, clean foods.

Sharron January 31, 2016 - 3:46 PM

All I have to say is, “Right On”!!!!

Ruthie Pierce July 25, 2016 - 8:12 PM

How do you relieve food withdrawal symptoms?

Erika Nicole Kendall July 31, 2016 - 12:56 PM

Whew, this is a blog post all by itself. Really, that’s a BOOK. (It’s the book I’m writing right now!)

Comments are closed.