IMPACTS OF PROCESSED FOODS ON HEALTH

SAIMA IBRAHIM (Saima_virgo1@hotmail.com)
Oct 05 - 11, 2009

Our ancestors preserved foods naturally, using salt, fermentation, and sun drying. Food processing evolved from these simple practices into more complicated and sophisticated methods. Today, nearly six thousands additives and chemicals are used by food companies to process food. Many of them can have a devastating affects on our health.

Unfortunately, the good intentions that characterized the processed food industry during the early days have now been degenerated to ways indifferent of detrimental impacts on the health of peoples.

It would be worthwhile for the consumers to be aware of preservatives used in the processed food in Pakistan and their harmful affects on human health. The literature available from developed economies indicates that most of the commonly used preservatives have some bad impact on health.

PROCESSED, FAKE AND JUNK FOODS

Processed food is made from real food that has been put through devitalizing chemical processes and is infused with chemicals and preservatives. Beef jerky, canned tea, jam, hot dogs, and low-fat yogurt with sugar or aspartame are few examples of processed food.

Junk foods contain very little real food. They are made of devitalized processed food, hydrogenated fats, chemicals, and preservatives, and include anything made with refined white flour. Canned breakfast drinks, cold/sugary cereals, doughnuts, drive-through foods, and soda are examples of junk foods.

Fake foods are made primarily of chemicals, and often contain gums and sugar fillers. Examples include bacon bits, bottled salad dressing, dehydrated soups, and instant coffee.

ENERGY OUTPUT

These non-foods have one thing in common. They cost your body a great deal to digest, absorb, and eliminate than they offer your body in nutritional value - an extremely poor return on your investment that leaves your body sluggish and depleted.

FOOD ADDITIVES & PRESERVATIVES

According to the report of National Research Council Commission on Life Sciences study, 2000: "Exposure to toxic chemicals and a combination of genetic and toxic chemical factors cause about 28 percent of all developmental defects affecting 120,000 infants born each year."

Health experts agree that fresh food is best for human health. They contend that advancement in technology has made it possible to increase the shelf life of food without apparently altering its freshness. Processed food cannot be stored without damaging its nutritional content. Preservation methods simply serve to slow down some of the aging processes, and mask the degeneration. They do not maintain true freshness.

In the quest to satisfy the consumer's unending demand for freshness, the food industry keeps trying to achieve it by extending the shelf life of products. This is a contradiction in terms. You cannot extend the freshness in food. Food that has been kept is no longer genuinely fresh. The simple fact is that you neither store nor process food without damaging its nutritional content. The more you process it, and the longer you store it, the more you damage it. Preservation methods simply serve to slow down some of the aging processes, and mask the degeneration. They do not maintain true freshness. We have lost sight of this basic truth and a typical diet now consists of over 70 percent processed foods. This means 70 percent denatured food.

PRESERVATIVE

Preservative is a type of additive used to help stop food from spoiling. Nitrates and nitrites are used to preserve meats such as ham and bacon, but are known to cause asthma, nausea, vomiting, and headaches in some people.

Sulfites (sulfur dioxide, metabisulfites, and others), are commonly used to prevent fungal spoilage, as well as the browning of peeled fruits and vegetables.

Sodium nitrite in some foods is capable of being converted to nitrous acid when ingested by humans. Although animal testing has showed that nitrous acid causes high rates of cancer, it is still in use.

Benzoates are a family of about 10 chemicals that are banned in Russia. They are believed to cause brain damage and trigger allergies such as asthma and skin rashes. The preservatives are used in margarine, fruit juices, fruit purees, tea and coffee extracts, pickles and flour.

Sulfur dioxide is a toxin used in dried fruits and molasses as well as to prevent brown spots on peeled fresh foods such as potatoes and apples. Sulfur dioxide bleaches out rot, hiding inferior fruits and vegetables. In the process, it destroys the vitamin B contained in produce.

Butylates play a role in causing high blood and cholesterol levels, besides impairing kidney and liver functions. These are used as preservatives in margarine, butter, vegetable oils.

Tannic acid as food preservative is used in coffee, tea cocoa, butter, and artificial flavorings such as carame. It may cause liver tumors, cancer, and other ailments. The major action of preservatives is that they work by destroying bacteria. The problem is that they indiscriminately destroy bacteria - good bacteria and bad bacteria. That means that they could interfere with the growth of the friendly bacteria in the colon - leading to serious digestion problems, and to various imbalances in the natural bacterial population that should thrive in the digestive tract.

ANTIOXIDANTS

Antioxidants prevent fatty foods from spoiling when exposed to oxygen. While antioxidants such as alpha-carotene are recommended by health specialists to prevent premature aging, some of the antioxidants used as food preservatives may be unhealthy.

BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) and BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) are two of the most widely used, most controversial of all antioxidants. BHA causing liver ailments and cancer is used in steak sauces, vegetable oils, shortenings, crackers, potato chips, dry cereals, cake mixes, frozen pizza, instant teas, and drink powders, etc.

Some people have difficulty metabolizing these chemicals, which are thought to result in health and behavioral problems, and hyperactivity. They cause allergic reactions, may also contribute to the development of tumors and cancer, as well as are lethal to the nervous system and liver.

COLORING

Food industry uses three thousand tons of food color per annum. Many coloring agents are derived from coal tar, and nearly all coloring is synthetic.

Coal tar including tartrazine induces hyperactivity, birth defects in animals, allergies, and stomach upsets. These are used in packet soups, sweets, smoked fish and meat, salad cream and jams.

Red Dye 40 (Allura Red AC) possibly causes birth defects and is even suspected to cause cancer. It is used in red gelatin desserts, red sweets, red soft drinks, red pistachio nuts, red chewing gums, cereals, and baked goods.

Some artificial food dyes have been banned because they are believed to cause cancer. Most dyes used today are of the artificial variety. They are also linked to allergies, asthmas, and hyperactivity.

The long list of foods and beverages in which color is altered includes butter, margarine, the skins of oranges and potatoes, popcorn, maraschino cherries, hot dogs, jellies, jellybeans, carbonated beverages, and canned strawberries and peas.

SWEETENERS

Most processed foods contain artificial sugar substitutes as sweetener containing no natural sugars, such as saccharine and aspartame.

Saccharin the most common and inexpensive sugar substitute causes allergic response and toxic reactions affecting skin, heart and gastro-intestinal tract. It may even cause tumors and bladder cancer.

It is widely used as sugar substitute in diet foods, ginger ale, plain and diet sodas, frozen desserts, and breakfast drinks.

Artificial sweeteners are linked to behavioral problems, hyperactivity, and allergies. Saccharin increases the incidence of bladder cancer in animal testing. All foods containing this sugar substitute are required to carry a warning label.

EMULSIFIERS, STABILIZERS, AND THICKENERS

These additives alter the texture of foods. Emulsifiers, for example, prevent ingredients from separating into unappealing globs in food such as mayonnaise and ice cream.

Propylene glycol is a synthetic solvent mainly used as an emulsifier in foods. Although it is recognized as toxic to the skin and other senses,

FLAVORINGS

The most common food additive, flavorings - of which there are over 2000 in use - may be natural or artificial, and are usually comprised of a large number of chemicals. Artificial flavors are also linked to allergic and behavioral reactions, but they are generally recognized as safe.

Caffeine is used as a colorant and flavoring agent. It is a stimulant, causes nervousness, heart palpitations, and heart defects. It is used in coffee, tea, coca cola, and soft drinks.

Caramel is a popular coloring and flavoring agent. It is suspected of causing vitamin B6 deficiencies, having genetic effects and possibly even causing cancer. It is commonly used in candy, instant tea, soft drinks, bread, frozen pizza, brown colored foods like spreads, chocolate and baked goods.

Gallates that stop fats from going rancid cause stomach irritation and are allergen. These are used in vegetable oils, bread, dry cereals, and fats. Glutamates used as monosodium glutamate can cause headaches, neck and/or chest pains in the sensitive, dizziness, palpitations, and cancer. Glutamates may even cause genetic damage. These additives are used in almost every convenience food.

Propyl Gallate used in meat products, potato sticks, vegetables packed with sauces, vegetable shortening and oils, chewing gum, pickles, may damage the liver or may cause birth defects.

MSG (monosodium glutamate) is another popular flavor enhancer. Found to cause damage in laboratory mice, it has been banned from use in baby foods, but is still used in numerous others. It causes common allergic and behavioral reactions including headaches, dizziness, chest pains, depression, and mood swings, and is also a possible neurotoxin.

REFINING

Refined flour has had the brown husk of the grain stripped away, leaving the white, refined starch found in white bread, white rice, pasta, cookies, and numerous other junk foods. Without the fibrous husk, refined starches are broken down quickly into sugar and absorbed immediately into the bloodstream causing glucose levels to rise, and increasing the risk of obesity.

In contrast, whole grains - such as whole grain bread and cereals, brown rice, and barley - retain the bran surrounding the starch, so they are absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream than refined starches. This slows sugar absorption from the intestine, and reduces the risk of obesity.

REFINING DESTROYS AND DEVITALIZES MOST OF FOODS' GOODNESS

Healthy unsaturated fatty acids - high in food value - are lost during the milling process. Half of the vitamin E is destroyed when the wheat germ and bran are removed.

Refining wheat into white flour removes between 50 and 93 percent of wheat's magnesium, zinc, chromium, manganese, and cobalt. Additionally, approximately 50 percent of calcium, 70 percent of phosphorus, 80 percent iron, 50 percent potassium, 65 percent of copper, 80 percent thiamin, 60 percent of riboflavin, 75 percent of niacin, 50 percent of pantothenic acid, and about 50 percent of pyridoxine is lost.

Refining sugar cane into white sugar depletes it of 99 percent of its magnesium and 93 percent of its chromium. Polishing rice removes 75 percent of its zinc and chromium.

Refined table salt has had most of the trace minerals removed during processing. It contains no sodium chloride, sugar as filler, and may even contain aluminum.

A HEALTHIER LIFESTYLE

We all enjoy the occasional cheeseburger, order of fries, or bag of chips. But, if we understand the consequences of making what ought to be an occasional treat into the mainstay of our diet, we can begin to make wise choices about how many of these things we are willing to eat.

When it comes to avoiding many of the questionable - and possibly deadly - additives contained in processed foods, we are only human after all, so taking baby steps toward change is usually the best approach.

If we can accomplish just one of these 10 steps, we move in the right direction. Try implementing one change a month.

1. As a general rule, if we do not recognize - the words on a label, do not buy it, or eat it.

2. Avoid products containing

- Nitrates and nitrites (including sodium nitrite)
- Sulfites (including metabisulfites)
- Sulfur dioxide
- Benzoic acid (aka sodium benzoate)
- BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
- BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)
- Coloring
- Coal tar
- Propylene glycol
- MSG (monosodium glutamate)
- Refined or bleached flour (i.e. whitened using chloride oxide)

3. Do not eat partially hydrogenated or hydrogenated trans fats.

4. Do not eat products containing sugar substitutes such as saccharine and aspartame.

5. Avoid products with a long shelf life - the better they do on the shelf the worse they are for your body.

6. Avoid products that have been enriched. They have been completely devitalized during processing.

7. Avoid food that has been genetically modified or engineered. Nearly all processed foods contain GMOs.

8. Avoid products made with ingredients euphemistically described as "natural flavoring" or "natural coloring".

9. Avoid products with added sugar - watch for words with -ose" endings such as glucose.

10. Incorporate a multi-vitamin into your health regimen.

With rapid growth of food processing industry, the use of food preservatives is also on rise. Many of these additives have harmful affects on human health.

We should incorporate disease-fighting products such as garlic, vitamin E, and Aloe Vera into our diet. Vitamin E supplements can also protect your body from the harmful affects of eating refined products that have been bleached with chloride oxide.