While it is healthier to eat a clean diet of real foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables—actual apples and fresh spinach—most people eat foods that have been mixed together and processed in some way. Often, the mixing together becomes complicated. Refined and artificial ingredients are added. The ingredient labeling may become an endless list of foods and other substances that are nearly impossible to pronounce. There are a countless number of these types of processed foods that are now available in most markets.
To make them tastier, processed foods often contain higher amounts of sugar and high fructose corn syrup. They tend to be high in calories, trans fats, and refined carbohydrates, and low in fiber. When purchasing any processed food, look for options with fewer ingredients. At least those processed foods will have fewer unhealthful ingredients. However, it is always best to treat processed foods as an occasional option, never a common mainstay.
In a cross-sectional study that was published in 2015, researchers from Brazil investigated the levels of sodium found in the snacks consumed by children and adolescents in Brazil. Sodium content and snack sizing were assessed in 2,945 processed foods sold at a supermarket that is part of a large chain in Brazil. Data were collected from October to December 2011. The researchers learned that 21 percent of the foods had high levels of sodium, 35 percent had medium levels, and 43 percent had low levels. Processed foods tended to have higher levels of sodium. In fact, the prepared/semiprepared food subgroup had sodium values up to 2,390 mg/serving, well over what the maximum intake should be for an entire day. The researchers noted that high sodium levels found in some of the snacks could be reduced, as they have been reduced in other similar snacks. “This situation suggests the potential to reduce Na [sodium] content in most of the processed foods assessed, especially those classified as high Na.” 2
In a study published in 2015 in the journal Health Affairs, researchers from Singapore and Durham, North Carolina, wanted to identify foods and beverages that were associated with weight gain in children and teens. For their data, the researchers used a cohort from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children in the United Kingdom that consisted of 15,444 children born in southwest England. With 4,646 children from that cohort, the researchers quantified associations between 27 food and beverage groups and excess weight gain in three-year periods among youth ages 7, 10, and 13 years. Several foods were associated with excess weight gain. These included processed foods such as breaded or battered poultry, coated fish, processed meats, desserts, and sweets. The researchers noted that students should be encouraged to eat foods that will not add excess weight, such as those with less processing. “A strategy that encourages them to eat foods that are associated with weight loss, such as whole grains, uncoated poultry, and vegetables may be effective in controlling hunger and restricting total energy intake.” 3
In a study published in 2011 in the journal Public Health Nutrition, researchers from Brazil wanted to learn more about the association between consumption of ultraprocessed foods and metabolic syndrome, a disorder characterized by obesity, hypertension, alternation in glucose metabolism, low HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and wider waist circumference. The researchers used data from the CAMELIA (cardio-metabolic-renal) project, which included surveys with 210 adolescents conducted from July 2006 to December 2007. Metabolic syndrome was diagnosed in 6.7 percent of the teens, who were between 12 and 19 years. When their food intake was analyzed, it was determined that the teens with metabolic syndrome had a higher average daily intake of energy, carbohydrates, and ultraprocessed foods than the teens without metabolic syndrome. According to the researchers, “a balanced diet, emphasizing the intake of minimally processed foods and a low consumption of ultra-processed foods, should be encouraged and incorporated into the habits of teenagers.” 5
In a study published in 2015 in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers from Australia wanted to learn more about the outside of the home food selection patterns of older teens and young adults. Their cohort consisted of 112 emerging adult university students between the ages of 19 and 24 years. All of the participants completed an online survey which assessed demographics, perceived stress, dieting, physical activity, and influences on food selection. Body mass index and waist circumference, both indicators of adiposity, were measured. The researchers found that taste was the most important influence on food selection. Taste was following by convenience (availability), cost, nutrition/health value, smell, and stimulatory properties (alertness). Processed foods tend to be tasty, convenient, and budget friendly, but they are definitely not healthful. Emerging adults should be eating more nonprocessed food. “Health promotion strategies addressing tertiary education food environments should focus on ensuring the ready availability of tasty and nutritious foods at a low cost.” 7
1. Tae-Hee Kim, Ji-young Choi, Hae-Hyeog Lee, and Yongsoon Park, “Associations between Dietary Pattern and Depression in Korean Adolescent Girls,” Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology 28, no. 6 (2015): 533-37.
2. M. V. Kraemer, R. C. Oliveira, D. A. Gonzalez-Chica, and R. P. Proença,“Sodium Content on Processed Foods for Snacks,” Public Health Nutrition 19, no. 6 (April 2016): 967-75.
3. Di Dong, Marcel Bilger, Rob M. van Dam, and Eric A. Finkelstein, “Consumption of Specific Foods and Beverages and Excess Weight Gain Among Children and Adolescents,” Health Affairs 34, no. 11 (2015): 1940-48.
4. M. L. Louzada, L. G. Baraldi, E. M. Steele et al., “Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods and Obesity in Brazilian Adolescents and Adults,” Preventive Medicine 81 (2015): 9-15.
5. L. F. Tavares, S. C. Fonseca, M. L. G. Rosa, and E. M. Yokoo, “Relationship between Ultra-Processed Foods and Metabolic Syndrome in Adolescents from a Brazilian Family Doctor Program,” Public Health Nutrition 15, no. 1 (2011): 82-87.
6. Soonnam Joo, Seyoung Ju, and Hyeja Chang, “Comparison of Fast Food Consumption and Dietary Guideline Practices for Children and Adolescents by Clustering of Fast Food Outlets around Schools in the Gyeonggi Area of Korea,” Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 24, no. 2 (2015): 299-307.
7. L. Hebden, H. N. Chan, J. C. Louie et al., “You Are What You Choose to Eat: Factors Influencing Young Adults’ Food Selection Behaviour,” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 28, no. 4 (2015): 401-8.
8. Claire M. Luiten, Ingrid H. M. Steenhuis, Helen Eyes et al., “Ultra-Processed Foods Have the Worst Nutrient Profile, Yet They Are the Most Available Packaged Products in a Sample of New Zealand Supermarkets.” Public Health Nutrition 19, no. 3 (2016): 530-38.
Dong, Di, Marcel Bilger, Rob M. van Dam, and Eric A. Finkelstein. “Consumption of Specific Foods and Beverages and Excess Weight Gain Among Children and Adolescents.” Health Affairs 34, no. 11 (2015): 1940-48.
Hebden, L., H. N. Chan, J. C. Louie et al. “You Are What You Choose To Eat: Factors Influencing Young Adults’ Food Selection Behaviour.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics 28, no. 4 (2015): 401-8.
Joo, Soonnam, Seyoung Ju, and Hyeja Chang. “Comparison of Fast Food Consumption and Dietary Guideline Practices for Children and Adolescents by Clustering of Fast Food Outlets around Schools in the Gyeonggi Area of Korea.” Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition 24, no. 2 (2015): 299-307.
Kim, Tae-Hee, Ji-young Choi, Hae-Hyeog Lee, and Yongsoon Park. “Associations between Dietary Pattern and Depression in Korean Adolescent Girls.” Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology 28, no. 6 (2015): 533-37.
Kraemer, M. V., R. C. Oliveira, D. A. Gonzalez-Chica, and R. P. Proença. “Sodium Content on Processed Foods for Snacks.” Public Health Nutrition 19, no. 6 (April 2016) 967-75.
Louzada, M. L., L. G. Baraldi, E. M. Steele et al. “Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods and Obesity in Brazilian Adolescents and Adults.” Preventive Medicine 81 (2015): 9-15.
Luiten, Claire M., Ingrid H. M. Steenhuis, Helen Eyles et al. “Ultra-Processed Foods Have the Worst Nutrient Profile, Yet They Are the Most Available Packaged Products in a Sample Of New Zealand Supermarkets.” Public Health Nutrition 19, no 3 (2016): 530-38.
Powell, L.M., B. T. Nguyen, and W. H. Dietz. “Energy and Nutrient Intake from Pizza in the United States.” Pediatrics 135, no. 2 (2015): 322-30.
Punitha, V. C., A. Amudhan, P. Sivaprakasam, and V. Rathanaprabu. “Role of Dietary Habits and Diet in Caries Occurrence and Severity among Urban Adolescent School Children.” Journal of Pharmacy & BioAllied Sciences 7, Supplement 1 (2015): S296-S300.
Tavares, L. F., S. C. Fonseca, M. L. G. Rosa, and E. M. Yokoo. “Relationship between Ultra-Processed Foods and Metabolic Syndrome in Adolescents from a Brazilian Family Doctor Program.” Public Health Nutrition 15, no. 1 (2011): 82-87.
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