Home Clean Eating Boot Camp The Chemical “Processing” In Your Processed Foods

The Chemical “Processing” In Your Processed Foods

by Erika Nicole Kendall

When I think back to the days that I first gave up processed foods, I remember how hard it was for me to get used to the different tastes and smells and textures of food in my mouth. I remember being told as a little girl “You are supposed to chew your food 32 times before you swallow. It helps with digestion.” I even remember the point where… I stopped having to chew so much. My jaw “hurt” less. Food didn’t seem so tough to chew.

Some people may see “chewing your food a ton of times” as simply a corny etiquette issue, but outside of the little girly bites and “nibbling” you might think of, there’s a reality to eating this way that’s important to acknowledge. It’s also important to understand why you simply could not eat that way on a processed food-laden diet.

To “process” a food means that it… undergoes a “process” to become what it is when you receive it. There’s usually a chemical involved. Something to help preserve it… something to sweeten it… something to give it flavor entirely… something to “create” favor… there’s always something. There’s always “something” because that “something” usually helps the company manufacturing the product keep that product affordable for you.

Consider high fructose corn syrup (otherwise known as HFCS – my personal whipping boy.) When HFCS is taken into the body, it cannot be handled like regular sugar and is then sent directly to the liver to be dealt with. In the meantime, while other sweeteners trigger the hormone that tells you to stop eating, HFCS doesn’t. Instead, it hangs out in the liver, waiting to be processed as fat. Just so you know.. anything you eat that the rest of the body fails to find a use for (like these additives and random chemicals) is sent to the liver to be processed as fat… and overworking your liver in this fashion can, well… I’m just sayin’.

Let’s take it a step further. What’s in the picture below?

Credit: Fooducate

If you watched the clip above, you already know. Our processed foods are broken down to their most basic parts, mixed in with preservatives (which help, you know, preserve the final product), flavor additives, water, flour, various forms of salt, then manipulated to be whatever they want to sell us. The same ground up chicken carcass (which is what is in that photo) can be chicken patties, chicken nuggets, chicken fingers, “diced chicken,” the chicken in your chicken pot pie, the chicken in your soup… whatever. Just look for “mechanically separated [animal] parts.” You won’t have to look too hard.

Once it’s broken down to create this… goo… chemicals are used to hold it in place to form whatever shape it’s going to take. Once it meets your saliva and enters your body, it breaks right back down to the goo… with no fiber inside to help push it out. It essentially deflates inside of your system, making it easier to consume more calories because you’re “not full yet.” Couple all of this with the fact that it takes approximately 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal from your digestive system that you’re “full,” and you start to see why a food that breaks down this quickly is a recipe for disaster – a breaded chicken breast on wheat bread breaks down much more slowly than a chicken patty sandwich on white bread, takes longer to chew (buying you time until that 20 minute mark… see what that 30 bites was important?), takes longer to digest (thus leaving you feeling fulfilled longer), and keeps you from overindulging. You’re getting that “full” feeling for less calories. You’re not scarfing it down because it’s breaking down faster than it can fill you up… only to find that “all-of-a-sudden-I-feel-like-I-ate-too-much” feeling arrive.

No nutritional value, harmful and fattening chemical additives, unidentifiable sources… sorry, give me a head of broccoli and I’ll make my own, anyday.

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Peajai August 12, 2010 - 11:11 AM

That is supposed to be chicken in that picture?! *faints*

CoCo November 26, 2011 - 10:03 PM

I know, right!? I thought that was candy, or some kind of cake or snack food!

That picture trips me out! No more chicken nuggets for me, man. When I was younger, I used to suck my thumb. My mom tried EVERYthing to get me to stop, but I didn’t stop until a dead bug got stuck to my thumb one day. I couldn’t look at my thumb without seeing that dead bug! Well, from now on, I won’t be able to look at a chicken nugget without thinking of that picture.

Heather August 12, 2010 - 12:15 PM

I am trying to be more clean with my eating. I have lost about 20lbs by cutting my calories, but I am still ingesting some processed stuff. Who knows I may have lost more.

Rita August 12, 2010 - 12:19 PM

Omg @ the photo! No more chicken nuggets for me!

Serenity23 August 12, 2010 - 12:22 PM

I’d never saw that but I’ve heard the buzz about chicken nuggets. It looks disgusting! Guess I’ll have to make my own tenders out of boneless skinless chicken breasts.

Juqweis August 12, 2010 - 12:42 PM

OMG I thought it was Strawberry ice cream when I first saw it. Can you believe i feed my two year old daughter that stuff. I am throwing it away as soon as i get home.

Sarah August 12, 2010 - 12:52 PM

When Jamie asks why the kids would still eat the McNugget, even after recognizing that it’s not good for you, the children’s first answer is quite telling: “Because we’re hungry.” Not “because it tastes good,” or, “because we like it,” but, “because we’re hungry.”

One of my favorite links describes a hierarchy of food needs (like Maslow’s hierarchy): http://www.fatnutritionist.com/index.php/if-only-poor-people-understood-nutrition/

First priority: just having enough food. Not even good-tasting food, or healthy food (what’s called “instrumental food” in this pyramid), but just enough food.

Info about Huntingdon, WV, in which Jamie’s show took place, from the 2000 US Census:

“The median income for a household in the city was $23,234, and the median income for a family was $34,756. The per capita income for the city was $16,717. About 17.5% of families and 24.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including 29.8% of those under the age of 18 and 12.5% of those 65 and older.”

If nearly 25% of the population of this town is under the poverty line, then it makes sense that the first priority for them would be just getting enough food, processed or not.

Erika August 12, 2010 - 1:16 PM

I already discussed the context of the clip here: https://blackgirlsguidetoweightloss.com/the-op-eds/why-jamie-olivers-food-revolution-breaks-my-heart/

I do agree with you, but I’m also on the side of “it’s going to take a lot of work to teach people how to use what they’ve got to get what they need.”

There’s a commenter on this site who shared how she used food stamps to grow a garden and make healthy living a priority in her home… so I fully believe it can be done at any income level. It’s just a matter of educating the public on how to do it (which should be the real priority here, but I digress.)

ladydi February 25, 2013 - 1:43 PM

I agree it is all about education; and people taking the time to think it out; it makes me sick; here in Pennsylvania at deli’s the people that have food stamps can buy all kinds of junk; I saw a kid buying bags & bags of candy; that is just not right. Deli’s previously could not accept stamps but they fought for the right becuz they were loosing money; I say there should be alimit on un-healthy suggary snacks..no excuse

Sarah August 12, 2010 - 1:30 PM

@Erika: Thanks for the previous link (must go looking around some more).

Educating the public re: links between capitalism and processed food: Yes!

Meeting people where they are when it comes to food access, quantity, and healthiness, then trying to help them empower themselves forward (in a non-condescending way): Yes!

Creating the economic situation on an individual level and societal level where food stamps are unnecessary: Yes!

Eating those nuggets ever again: Heck No! (First time I saw that goo photo, I thought it was strawberry soft serve….).

Erika August 12, 2010 - 2:54 PM

Girl, I feel you. I thought it was cotton candy pre-swirl. *insert vomit face*

And again, I feel you… that was the main issue I had with FR – the inability to address the very real issue of money and availability and how one affects the other… but no one’s hearin’ me on that, anymore. Sigh.

MissMel10 January 31, 2011 - 11:40 AM

OMG watching that brought tears to my eyes. I know that the guy said it’s not done that way in this country, but I’m sure some places do and if not, use similar procedures. It’s bad enough we’re killing ourselves but we’re giving that crap to our babies! If I ever thought for a second that our government cared about our health, I certainly know better now. There is NO way this mess (or anything remotely similar) should permitted! Thank you for the eye-opener.

milaxx February 25, 2012 - 1:58 AM

It’s amazing what a little education will do for you. I remember my last dunkin donuts boston creme donut. I used to LOVE those things. I’m not gonna lie when I say I could buy a half dozen at 7am and nibble on them over the course of a day. Then I discovered that those donuts in addition to being full of sugar and sorely lacking in nutritional value contained over 50 ingredients and NINE of them are dairy.
I haven’t had a boston creme since.

LaTonya May 17, 2012 - 10:35 AM

I know, I keep telling everyone that the (FDA) is killing us with the foods we eat, not only with our food system, with also the Meds. that we take also i.e. all the side affects that we have from taking them! Sometimes people have ti take Meds. for the side affects:-/! Go figure!!!

Jasna July 10, 2012 - 4:32 PM

“Once it meets your saliva and enters your body, it breaks right back down to the goo… with no fiber inside to help push it out.”

Ok, so – I don’t want to get all descriptive here so here’s just a hint – no fiber… to push it out. Such a small detail, such a big potential for messing you up.
It took me a month of doctor visits and pills and creams for the rash and checking if I have parasites or something but not a single time did he ask me or tell me processed food can cause that kind of mess with digestive system.
It took me looking for people with similar symptoms on the internet to figure out the cause and additional two weeks for it all to disappear after switching to home prepared food.

I think I was too descriptive in the end anyway…. sorry.

V July 11, 2012 - 9:44 AM

Wow this makes me want to stay vegetarian forever. It is scary that the kids still wanted to eat this stuff.

Erin May 9, 2014 - 9:03 AM

Thanks for a plain and simple explanation of what “processing” is and how it works in the body. I have been tending to roll my eyes at that word lately – it has become a bit overused and meaningless, kind of like “natural.” I am trying to change my ways but am a giant skeptic. Thanks for your site, I read it daily.

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