Everyone has heard the phrase “processed foods” by now, but many people don’t really know what life would be like without them. Here’s a hint: Your health, mood, and appearance will improve—dramatically!
Processed foods are chemical-laden, highly-addictive foods that are carefully curated to appeal to your taste buds—even if it means causing havoc to your health. “These foods are so hard to say no to because they are loaded with added sugars and fats, which physically change how they feel inside the mouth,” explains registered dietitian nutritionist Lauren Minchen MPH, RDN, CDN. “The altered texture and taste actually make the body crave more of it.”
What’s even scarier is that something called “ultra-processed food” exists, which is like the worst of the worst. According to a study published in BMJ Open, these kinds of products make up almost 60 percent of our daily calories and 90 percent of the added sugar we consume.
Here’s the final kicker, though: When your diet contains more processed than unprocessed foods, ultimately, you can deprive yourself of the nutrients your body needs. Processed foods are often stripped or void of nutrients, so they tend to be lower in the health-promoting nutrients unique to whole foods, like antioxidants.
From weight loss to migraine relief, here are some of the serious health benefits you can reap if you give up processed foods. Read on, and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
While you may blame your chatty office or rowdy kiddos for your headaches, poor eating habits may be the real culprits. “Some people who have terrible migraines might be able to improve the severity and frequency by eating less boxed goods,” says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. “A lot of the processed foods are actually triggers for migraines.”
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“There are a lot of extra calories in processed foods that are just wasteful,” says Smith. Every time you break for a snack or sit down for a meal, it’s an opportunity to fuel and nourish your body. Processed foods are often lacking in fiber and nutrients that help fill you up, which can lead to overeating later. Opt for whole foods as often as possible to fuel yourself more efficiently. Try these 9 Healthy Foods That Turn Off Your Hunger Switch Fast.
Worried about thinning hair? Dull hair? Loss of hair? Whatever your concern is, food can easily be part of the answer to your luscious locks. When you consistently opt for processed snacks, you rob your body of things like omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for healthy hair and rarely found in packaged, processed products. The healthy fats found in things like walnuts help promote hair strength and sheen, as do these 17 Best Foods To Stop Hair Loss.
Instead of relying on coffee, natural energy will come easier to you when you swap the processed stuff for whole foods. “The body spends a lot of time trying to figure out what’s what and then breaking down all these foreign
, which can zap your energy. Since our body is not able to do what it should be doing, there is a lot of energy wasted,” says Smith.
If you ever get crabby for no good reason, take a closer look at your diet. All those processed chemicals can affect mood because the ‘foods’ aren’t actually giving your body any adequate nutrition, according to Harvard Health. Saturated fats make you foggy, sugar and syrups cause crazy energy crashes; the list goes on and on.
An expensive prescription from your dermatologist might do wonders for some people, but the answer to a better complexion may come from a visit with a nutritionist. Numerous studies have come out in the past year pointing to everything from dairy to zinc deficiencies for being the reason some people breakout. “Better skin is one of the major benefits of forgoing processed foods,” says Smith. “A lot of the preservatives and ingredients found in processed foods can often get in the way of clear, healthy skin.”
Okay, you won’t actually be able to stop the clock. But by trading in all the high-fructose corn syrup, additives, artificial colors, and other sketchy ingredients, you’ll at least get out of the fast lane toward feeling and looking older than you are. Specifically, a 2019 study found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods (more than 4 servings daily) was associated with a 62% increased risk of all-cause mortality.
Look, we all have a fondness for something, whether it’s an Oreo or a Big Mac. But overall, you’ll start to yearn for healthier fare on the regular, once you eat less processed foods. According to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition, you can alter how your brain reacts to high-calorie and low-calorie foods simply by losing weight and changing your eating habits for the better. Once you get into a rhythm of healthy, clean eating, you’ll feel so good you won’t even want to go back to your old ways—and when you do on occasion, you’ll notice the dramatic shift in how your body feels.
As mentioned earlier, most processed foods have been formulated and designed to taste as appealing as possible and get you addicted to them in the process. High-fructose corn syrup actually activates the part of your brain that gets addicted to things like drugs—and it can be found in tons of things from ketchup to cereal.
Researchers have found that eating a diet that is high in sugar, saturated fat, and processed carbohydrates can disrupt your sleep, according to the Journal of the American Heart Association. There are many ways in which a processed food-heavy diet can disrupt sleep, but one way is that the added sugar in many products can keep you wired by spiking blood sugar and making it difficult to wind down for the night or causing you to wake up.
“From a nutrition perspective, eating more whole foods that are less processed can help to provide more brain-healthy nutrients like B vitamins and healthy fats,” says Smith. The superstars in the brain food world are rich in healthy fats; think walnuts, wild salmon, and avocados.
According to Smith, another benefit you’ll likely enjoy from ditching processed food is better digestion. “You can experience things like improved digestion and bowel regularity because you’ll naturally start eating more high-fiber foods that help you poop,” says Smith.
There’s some truth to the old’ claim that abs are made in the kitchen. Eating a clean diet that’s rich in whole foods and void of chemicals and additives can help you lose weight and reveal those strong muscles you’ve been sculpting tirelessly at the gym. Recently, Spanish researchers found that a diet rich in fats and sugars from ultra-processed foods may increase muscle pain and fat cell development between muscles in just 6 weeks. Furthermore, your body needs protein and healthy fats to help repair and strengthen your muscles in the first place!
From birth control meds to the natural aging process, there are already enough things out there messing with our hormones. When you ditch processed food, it can dramatically help you feel more balanced. While saturated and trans fats should be avoided, regular inclusion of healthy monounsaturated fats can help balance hormones—specifically the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin. According to research published in the British Journal of Nutrition, consuming too many calories from fat and simple sugars can disrupt the proper functioning of the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which can get in the way of your body’s ability to regulate weight and metabolism.
“Eating too many processed foods hurts our ability to fight colds because you’re not getting enough nutrition to fuel the immune system,” says Smith. Most fruits and vegetables are chock-full of immune-boosting vitamins and probiotics, which your body requires to build up its defense system.
“Someone with elevated blood sugar might notice that their blood sugar is better when eating fewer processed foods that have lots of sneaky sugars in them,” says Smith. Scaling back on processed foods is one of the first steps people must take when they get concerned about diabetes; find out some tips and tricks with these cooking and eating tips for diabetics!
When it comes down to it, it’s really hard to know exactly what we’re putting in our bodies when we’re eating out of bags and boxes. It’s often impossible to even pronounce the names of some ingredients running down the nutrition label! By cutting out processed foods, you’ll develop a better understanding of what exactly (and how much of it) is going into your body.
So why not try these 17 Foods Nutritionists Eat Every Single Day.