Making the right choices about your diet usually comes down to one simple thing: knowledge. While it’s not exactly simple, it is the biggest factor that dictates our decisions. In order to make a good resolution, one has to know the potential consequences. It’s not so easy to make those good decisions when you don’t know what’s good, though. Perhaps if you know what’s bad, it makes it easier to find the good (or at the very least, avoid the bad). Knowing the reason why something is what it is makes it easier to make decisions regarding one’s diet. With so many foods to choose from, it can become confusing as to what is healthy and what should probably be avoided. Let us identify a particularly common and widespread type of food, and illuminate the truth behind it.

When it comes to misleading foods, nothing is more deceptive than foods that are refined or heavily processed. You may already know that you should minimize or eliminate processed and refined carbohydrates in your diet, but you might not be familiar as to what they are exactly, or why they should be avoided. So then, what exactly is a ‘refined’ food? To create refined carbohydrates, three basic processing steps are needed:

  1. Eliminate the water
  2. Eliminate the fiber
  3. Eliminate the nutrients

Much of the processing is done with heat (don’t mistake that as the same thing as cooking your food, these steps involve far more intense processing). When you do those steps to the food, you are left with a very dense (hence the word heavily), low nutrient food. Why would anyone want to make food like this if it gets rid of most the nutrients? Well, that’s a pretty complex answer, but the short response would be something like this: Why? To make money. And how does that work? Economies of scale (not to mention they are addicting). At any rate, heavily processed and refined foods aren’tmade with your own health in mind, and the consumption of them is not encouraged by nutritionists or medical professionals. In fact, it is even suggested you should probably avoid them.

Processed and refined foods are notorious for containing high levels of fats, salt, and sugars, as well as preservatives. There is a general consensus that too much fat, salt, or sugar can be extremely detrimental to one’s health. As we mentioned in part 2 of our series, there is a significant correlation between diets poor in nutrition and debilitating conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The bigger problem is that processed and refined foods make up a huge portion of the Standard American Diet (or the Western Diet). The greater intake of processed foods translates into a higher amount of calories consumed. It is especially true as these foods are typically heavy and calorie dense (contain a large amount of calories in proportion to their size).

The high caloric density of heavily processed foods is actually what makes them the most dangerous of all (ex. Doughnuts). These foods tend to be ideal for over-consumption, because they are so dense. It simply takes more of that food (as opposed to less dense foods) to satisfy hunger. Because they are so dense in calories, it is very easy to over-eat (by the time you feel full, you would have eaten too many calories). Obviously, some foods are more hunger-satisfying than others. It turns out that filling foods have three basic traits in common:

  1. High in water
  2. High in fiber
  3. High in nutrients

Good examples of filling foods that meet those criteria would be vegetables, fruits, unrefined grains, and legumes. When you get right down to it, it is easy to see why heavily processed and refined foods are so dangerous (just take a second look at the three basic processing steps). They actually encourage overeating, which directly leads to weight gain (and a whole host of other problems). To make matters even worse, these foods saturate our stores and restaurants, many of them disguised as healthy foods. It’s an ugly truth that the current situation in the food industry is the biggest problem and such an obstacle in dealing with the obesity epidemic. Rather than spreading blame, let us opt for cheer: the demand for healthier food options is growing and will continue to do so, especially as more and more people seek to learn the facts about their diets.