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The impact of processed foods on health and how to make healthier choices

Team AckoMay 13, 2024

When you visit the supermarket, you will discover shelves filled with processed foods. From instant noodles to packets of chips, a whole lot of items are available to satiate our hunger. To be honest, they have also made our lives easy. 

After a day of hard work, you might be too tired to go home and cook. No worries because you have a frozen dinner pack in your refrigerator. Heat it up and get ready to eat it. 

Need something to munch on while bingeing your favourite TV show? There’s a packet of chips waiting for you. And let’s not forget the sweetened, fizzy drinks that go well with the crispy delights. 

There’s no doubt that processed food items taste unbelievably good. However, their contribution to our health and wellness is often overlooked and ignored. The truth of the matter is that many of these foods are packed with unnecessary calories and unhealthy ingredients, leading to a wide range of health risks. 

Foods heavily altered with chemicals, known as ultra-processed foods, often contain high levels of sugar, artificial additives, processed carbs, and trans fats. These contribute to high obesity and disease rates globally. 

Ultra-processed food consumption has been on the rise in recent years. They now constitute a substantial portion of daily calorie intake worldwide, ranging from 25% to 60%.

Delve deeper into this article to discover more about processed foods and how they can harm you in life. 




What Are Processed Foods?

Processed foods are those that have been treated in some way to improve shelf life, enhance nutrition, and/or improve the way they taste. This includes canned, frozen, and other packaged items in the supermarket, as well as restaurant offerings such as fast food, snacks, and pre-prepared items. The primary aim of processed food production is to provide a convenient and economical source of food, but this often comes at the cost of our health.

Why Are Processed Foods Unhealthy for You?

A few particular reasons why processed foods might be harmful for you include the following:

Added Sugar

Highly processed foods often include extra sugar and, frequently, high fructose corn syrup. Added sugar provides no vital nutrients but is rich in calories. Consuming high amounts of added sugar on a regular basis can result in uncontrollable overeating. It is also associated with health issues like weight gain, metabolic disorders, type 2 diabetes, and inflammatory ailments. 

Processed foods and drinks are one of the main sources of artificial sweeteners in the diet. Sweetened drinks are a notably substantial source. Individuals usually consume much more sugar than they are aware of in fizzy beverages. 

Decreasing the intake of added sugar is a rapid and efficient approach to enhancing healthiness. One effective way to reduce your intake of added sugar is to opt for sparkling water instead of soda.

Artificial Ingredients

Processed food labels frequently contain a long list of unfamiliar ingredients. Some are artificial chemicals added to enhance the food's taste. Processed foods often contain chemicals such as: 

  • Preservatives to prevent spoilage 

  • Artificial colouring to enhance visual appeal 

  • Chemical flavourings to mimic natural flavours 

  • Texturing agents to alter the food's consistency 

In addition, processed foods may contain many more unspecified chemicals. For instance, "artificial flavour" is a secret blend. Manufacturers are not obligated to reveal its exact contents, which typically contain various chemicals.

Lack of Nutrients

Highly processed foods lack vital nutrients compared to unprocessed or minimally processed ones. Manufacturers may artificially add vitamins and minerals to compensate for the lost nutrients. However, unprocessed foods offer unique beneficial compounds that are absent in highly processed options. 

Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and grains are rich in plant compounds with antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cancer-fighting properties. For optimal nutrient intake, focus on consuming unprocessed or minimally processed foods rather than highly processed ones.

Refined Carbs

Carbohydrates are a vital part of a healthy diet, but it's important to choose them wisely. Processed carbohydrates found in unhealthy foods offer fewer benefits than unprocessed carbs from whole foods. 

Processed carbohydrates are rapidly broken down by the body, causing a quick rise in blood sugar and insulin levels. This can lead to cravings and fatigue when levels drop later on. 

Consuming refined carbohydrates can disrupt blood sugar levels, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. They are often found in highly processed foods. Instead, prioritize whole foods that are rich in unprocessed carbohydrates, such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, beans, and lentils.

Fast Calories

Processed foods are designed to be easily chewed and swallowed. Since fibre is often removed during processing, less energy is required to consume and digest ultra-processed foods compared to their whole or less-processed counterparts. This ease of consumption enables people to eat larger quantities of these products in shorter time frames. 

Consequently, they end up consuming more calories while using less during digestion. This imbalance can result in an excess of calorie intake, potentially leading to unintended weight gain.

Lack of Fibres

Eating plenty of dietary fibre is beneficial for overall well-being. Fiber helps slow down the body's intake of sugars, making you feel fuller for longer with fewer calories.

Additionally, it acts as a food source for healthy bacteria in the gut, improving digestive health. Furthermore, fibre supports heart health. 

But ultra-processed foods tend to be low in fibre. Natural fibre gets lost during processing. 

High Trans Fats

Many ultra-processed foods contain unhealthy fats. They frequently include refined seed or vegetable oils that are inexpensive and long-lasting. Manufacturers transform liquid vegetable oils into artificial trans fats by introducing hydrogen to solidify them. 

Trans fats promote inflammation and elevate levels of "bad" cholesterol (LDL) while reducing levels of "good" cholesterol (HDL). Consuming trans fats raises the risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

High Sodium Content

Packaged, canned, and fast foods often contain excessive levels of sodium compared to other foods. This high sodium intake can have negative health consequences. Sodium can contribute to high blood pressure, leading to fluid buildup and bloating. 

It can also increase the risk of kidney disease and heart problems. Pay attention to food labels and opt for low-sodium options to maintain a healthy sodium intake.


MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a common additive used to improve flavor in many processed foods, including snacks, meats, and fast food. While it can enhance taste, consuming MSG can potentially lead to negative reactions such as headaches, facial flushing, and allergy-like symptoms. 

To reduce your exposure to MSG, it's important to pay attention to food labels and opt for fresh, unprocessed ingredients. Cooking meals at home from scratch also allows you to control the ingredients and limit the potential for MSG exposure.

Palm Oil

Palm oil is in many processed foods because it's cheap, useful, and tastes good. However, eating too much palm oil can raise your LDL, which can increase your risk of heart problems. So, it's important to know when your food has palm oil and to choose healthier options instead. That way, you can take care of your health and feel your best.

Health Risks Associated with Processed Foods

The overwhelming majority of processed foods contain high levels of salt, fat, and sugar, all of which can contribute to serious health issues. The overconsumption of these ingredients increases the risk of obesity, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes. In addition, processed foods are often low in important vitamins and minerals, meaning that diets based on these foods can be lacking in vital nutrients.

One of the most concerning issues is that foods that seem healthy at first glance can be laden with hidden sugar. For instance, yoghurts, shakes, and smoothies that are labelled as 'low fat' can often be full of added sugar, while breakfast cereals often contain high levels of sodium. It is, therefore, important to be aware of the hidden ingredients in processed foods and to read labels carefully.

How to Make Healthier Choices

Thankfully, there are a number of steps that we can take to stay healthy and reduce the risks associated with processed foods. Firstly, it is important to remember that fresh, unprocessed foods are always the best choice. Eating more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains can provide all the essential nutrients we need.

In addition, it is essential to read labels carefully when shopping for processed foods. It is important to look out for the words 'low fat' or 'sugar-free' and to be aware of the sodium content of each product. We should also limit the amount of processed and pre-packaged snacks we eat, opting for natural alternatives such as nuts and seeds instead.

Furthermore, it is also important to exercise regularly and engage in other activities that help improve our physical and mental health. Becoming more involved in our community and spending time outdoors can help add an extra sense of well-being, while regular exercise is important for maintaining a healthy weight and an active lifestyle.


In conclusion, it is important to understand the impact that processed foods can have on our health and well-being. Eating too much-processed food can lead to a range of physical and mental health problems and can also stifle our nutritional intake. Therefore, we need to be aware of the hidden ingredients in these foods and to make more mindful decisions when considering them as part of our diets.

By making healthier choices such as eating more fresh, unprocessed foods, limiting the amount of processed and packaged snacks consumed, and taking regular exercise, we can all reduce the risks associated with processed food and ensure we are living healthier and happier lives.

Also read: ABHA ID Card

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Here are some common questions about the impact of processed foods on health and how to make healthier choices


What is processed food?

Processed food is any food that has been treated in some way to improve shelf life, enhance nutrition, and/or improve the way they taste. This includes items such as canned and frozen items in the supermarket, as well as restaurant offerings such as fast food, snacks, and pre-prepared items.

Are there any health benefits associated with consumption of processed food?

Whilst many processed foods can be convenient and economical sources of food, they often come at the cost of our health. Excess consumption of processed food can lead to serious health issues, such as obesity, stroke, high blood pressure, and diabetes, and can also stifle our nutritional intake.

What should I do to make healthier choices when it comes to processed food?

Making healthier choices such as eating more fresh, unprocessed foods, limiting the amount of processed and packaged snacks consumed, and taking regular exercise can help to reduce the risks associated with processed food and ensure we are living healthier and happier lives.

Why are processed foods unhealthy for you?

Processed foods frequently have high sodium, unhealthy fat, and added sugar content. These may result in health issues like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. In addition, whole, unprocessed meals tend to be higher in fibre and nutrients than processed foods. So, consuming unprocessed foods is necessary for your overall well-being. 


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