6 Dangers of Processed Foods for Your Kids
This is the fifth article in our 10-part series that drills down on each individual point in 10 Ways to Make Your Kid Fat. Stay tuned for the rest.
There are only two kinds of food: whole foods and processed foods. What are processed foods? Processed foods (soft drinks, cheese crackers, cookies, chips, instant meals, etc.) are commonly canned, frozen, dehydrated or hydrogenated for “safety”, a longer shelf life and convenience. Processed foods are neatly packaged in a box, bag, can or jar with a list of ingredients on the label. About 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food is used to buy processed items. Shocking, isn’t it?
Real – or whole – foods (unpolished whole grains, fruits, vegetables, etc.) on the other hand grow in happy places like orchards, gardens and green houses and are unprocessed and unrefined. Whole foods have a more authentic flavor and are rich in texture. What’s more, whole foods are packed with nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytochemicals and fiber.
Whole foods generally take longer to prepare and have a shorter shelf life. But here is why feeding your children a diet that mostly consists of foods that are as close to their natural state as possible is still worth the extra work and planning:
6 Dangers of Processed Foods
- Processed foods have less nutritional value
Foods lose much of their nutritional value during processing. Still more problematic is that the flavor void is often filled with manmade, unhealthy fillers that contain empty calories, extra sugar and carbohydrates and usually not enough protein.
- Processed foods are top hiding places for the despicable Three S’s Gang
Processed foods commonly hide huge amounts of the Three S’s – saturated fat, sugar and sodium – making them a culprit for childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. For instance, almost 80% of our daily salt intake is from processed and prepared foods, according to the Mayo Clinic.
- Processed foods contains dangerous additives and chemicals
Food companies use more than 6000 additive chemicals to color, stabilize, emulsify, bleach, texturize, soften, sweeten, flavor, hide odors and preserve the “food” we’re putting in our bodies. Some of the most harmful ingredients in processed foods include high fructose corn syrup, trans fat, salt and artificial food dyes and artificial sweeteners containing aspartame. Many processed foods need preservatives to “survive” the manufacture, freezing, storing, shipping, storing again, refreezing…
To make up for the original taste that gets lost during processing, food manufacturers add artificial flavorings, sugar and fat to make the remnant product taste “good”, if you will. Many processed foods that are “light” or “diet” are loaded with chemicals, often artificial sweeteners, to make up for the “loss”. The FDA doesn’t typically require food manufacturers to list many of the additives as long as they are Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS). All the label has to say is “artificial flavor” or “artificial coloring” or “natural”. The long term effects of these chemicals in our food are unknown.
- Processed food keeps us from cooking healthier
We buy processed food mainly for convenience. It takes a lot less effort and time to make microwaveable mac and cheese than to cook pasta and prepare the rue from scratch. But taking the microwave meal shortcut (and, oh yes, we all feel THAT tremendous temptation after a busy day) also robs us of the opportunity to substitute with whole-grain pasta and use a recipe that contains less fat. The danger of processed food is that it’s simply there for us to grab without having to think much. Granted, it’s so much easier to run into the grocery store on your way home and grab a box of frozen lasagna than it is to stop and think about and then shop for the long list of ingredients you need to make lasagna from scratch. And we haven’t even talked about prep time yet. Opening the oven door, putting in the lasagna, closing the oven and waiting for the “ding” versus washing vegetables, cutting vegetables, sipping wine, measuring spices, sipping wine, browning the meat in a separate (gasp) pan, sipping wine, simmering the sauce for 45 minutes (while sipping wine)…. you get the idea. It’s a no brainer, right? Well, that’s the problem. Not only think about all the nutrients your family is missing out on when you serve the “easy” dinner, but the joy of cooking together… and, not to forget, the laughter gained from mom basically having a red wine buzz by the time she gets to sit down for dinner. Cheers!
- Processed foods are billboards for dubious health claimsProcessed food typically comes in excessive packaging, giving food manufacturers plenty of real estate for shady nutritional claims aimed at misleading and manipulating us into thinking we are buying something that’s actually good for our family. Like the gummy bear bag that says “fat free.”
- Strong flavors and colorful packaging of processed foods make real food seem boring to kids
Over time, our taste buds become used to the strong flavors of processed foods, eventually making us crave the super salty and ultra sweet processed foods. Whole foods close to their natural state can’t always compete with the intense – albeit artificial – flavoring of processed foods. Better-for-you foods also often don’t come in the same kind of flashy, exciting packaging as processed foods. Whole foods typically are not advertised to kids the way processed foods are. Real foods also don’t have fun friends that star in movies, live in Disney castles and get kisses from princess… sigh.