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Processed Foods & How They Can Impact Your Health

How processed foods can impact your health

How processed foods can impact your health

According to a Latest study, India is among the three countries that have the highest number of diabetics. In fact there has been such a rapid increase in Type II diabetes worldwide that the WHO has picked ‘Beat Diabetes’ as the theme for World Health Day 2016. Type II diabetes is more common and the main causes are hereditary factors like genes, sedentary lifestyles, lack of regular exercise, obesity and intake of large amounts of processed foods and sugary drinks. People are quick to point out that while our genes have not changed, lifestyle and foods we consume have changed and that is why diabetes has become endemic.

Fats, sugar and salt are added to processed foods to improve flavour and to act as preservatives. If large amounts of processed foods are consumed it means you will be taking in too much sugars, fats and salts which has an adverse effect on the health. Such foods can lead to problems like high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, ulcers, stomach cancer, obesity and diabetes. The FSSAI’s ‘Guidelines for making available wholesome, nutritious, safe and hygienic Food to School Children’ is a step in the right direction because children are becoming habituated to consuming foods high in fats, sugar and salt which is leading to obesity and diabetes even in young children.

There is no doubt processed foods provide a number of benefits like alleviating shortage of foods. Since they ensure deactivation of microorganisms in raw fruits and vegetables and so chances of acquiring foodborne illnesses are reduced. Processed foods have longer shelf life and can be transported easily so a large variety of foods can be made worldwide. Processing can improve the nutritional value of foods by adding extra nutrients and vitamins and fortifying foods which can benefit populations according to their needs. Improvement in processing techniques like Nano technology can help to preserve nutrients and fortify processed foods and they can even be modified to remove fats and sugar content from processed foods. Besides this processed foods are popular because they are cheaper and more convenient as they are ready to eat within minutes. 

Why processed foods are not good for diabetics

Fibre, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals are all essential for prevention of Type II diabetes but many processed foods do not contain them. When grains are milled, processed or refined the vital nutrients found in the fibre (germ and bran) are removed. Since fibre is removed it affects the glycaemic index of the food so the foods digest quickly and this affects the blood sugar levels. Besides refined flours processed foods contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils which contribute to type II diabetes, as they decrease the response of the cell to insulin. Human cells are made of healthy essential fatty acids and when these cells are replaced by fatty cells in hydrogenated vegetable oils the body uses the unhealthy fatty acids to repair and maintain cells. Processed foods have an abundance of refined grains, artificially altered fats and oils, and foods and beverages that contain high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is metabolized by the liver and is stored as fat leading to obesity and diabetes. 

Processing alters natural foods

Once of the methods used for processing foods is heating and if fresh vegetables and fruits are heated for canning it lead to loss of Vitamin C in the canned fruit. In some foods like bread, pasta and ready – to – eat foods nutrients are often removed to improve taste, appearance and shelf life so these foods contain more empty calories. Most flavouring, sweeteners, stabilizers, preservatives and texture enhancing agents added to foods have no nutritional value but could be health hazards. Cheap hydrogenated oils are unhealthy as compared to naturally saturated fats or cold-pressed oils but the consumers are not aware of this. Food-processing can damage the outer layers of grains and the chemical composition of starches which affects their glycaemic index.

Responsibility of the food industry

One of the best things that the food industry can do is to continue with their research so that consumers can be provided with foods that contain high fibre and nutrients  content so that the glycaemic index can be balanced out. Food manufacturers that supply foods that have higher calories, fats, sugar and salt and low nutrition levels must ensure that they are labelling foods correctly so consumers can make healthier food choices. The food industry must market their products with responsible advertising that does not mislead and must not target children especially if foods manufactured by them lead to health hazards. In fact the food industry must seriously think of cutting back on sugary drinks and products that lead to obesity by offering healthier choices.


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