When we think of food these days, the images that come to mind are not usually of an apple or a colorful salad; instead, we imagine a slice of pizza or a fat, juicy hot dog. These foods taste good because of the amount of added sugar, fat, and salt that make them delicious and addictive.
The food industry knowingly manufactures processed food that is harmful to our health and leads to otherwise preventable diseases and obesity because they misrepresent the content and benefits of their products to their consumers. In addition, this industrial food has created a public health disaster that targets new consumers, both children, and adults daily through excessive advertising and marketing.
The food giants like to portray themselves as blameless. They love to assign personal responsibility to the consumer for the food they choose to ingest, knowing full well that the constant advertising and confusing nutrition facts labels make it difficult for the consumer to make the correct decisions all the time.
The excessive and all-present marketing of processed foods contributes to the rise of obesity in the population. Children become addicted to processed food from a very early age, and then it is much harder to wean them off of it later. Many parents believe that if the products are available everywhere and so many people are eating them, they cannot be harmful. Food companies prey on the majority of the consumers’ lack of information because they have a vested interest in selling their products.
According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) for children and adolescents aged 2-19 years in 2017-20181:
- The prevalence of obesity was 19.3% and affected about 14.4 million children and adolescents.
- Obesity prevalence was 13.4% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 20.3% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 21.2% among 12- to 19-year-olds.
Adults fared even worse than the children when it came to obesity rates:
- The prevalence of obesity was 42.4% in 2017~2018.
- From 1999–2000 through 2017–2018, the prevalence of obesity increased from 30.5% to 42.4%, and the prevalence of severe obesity increased from 4.7% to 9.2%.
The human body runs on food. Once, food shortage was a significant concern in this country, but technological advances in food production led to an over-abundance of inexpensive food after World War II. Also, a substantial number of women joined the workforce at this time, and the processed food industry began to capitalize on the need for fast and convenient things to eat. This meant that families cooked fewer meals at home, and since processed foods were generally higher in calories, people were putting on weight.
Sugar seems to be a major culprit. The increase in our intake of simple sugars has fueled the obesity epidemic. The majority of our sugar comes from highly processed foods and sweetened beverages instead of intrinsic sugars from fruit and other non-processed items.
THE FOOD INDUSTRY TRICKS US
Many people know that they need to eat less sugar, but what they are not aware of is that sugar, under a variety of pseudonyms (i.e., agave nectar, barley malt, dextra, Florida crystals, etc.) is added to a lot of foods that we do not expect to contain sugar like bread, condiments, chips, sauces and salad dressings.
The food industry also promotes low-fat products, but they have to find a way to make these foods taste good, and how do they do that? Adding a significant amount of sugar to the product makes low-fat foods more appealing. In addition, it increases shelf life, so there is a considerable incentive to add corn syrup and other sweeteners to packaged foods.
Another important factor is advertising. Food marketing is big business. Billions of dollars are spent establishing brand loyalty and ensuring that highly processed food items are placed at eye level at the supermarkets where consumers can easily reach them.
The marketing has become highly sophisticated, and ads target both children and their parents. In the U.S., there are no rules about which foods can be marketed to which age groups.
NUTRITION FACT LABELS ARE CONFUSING
People are confused by Nutrition Facts labels. Packaged and heavily processed foods are notoriously hard to decipher. Consumers need to keep in mind that nutrition labels may not reflect the contents of the entire package but describe one serving’s contents, which can be misleading when there is more than one serving per container.
Nutrition Labels often contain a list of vitamins and minerals. However, these labels can be misleading as many of these so-called nutrients are added and don’t necessarily mean that the food is healthy. Remember that nutrition claims tend to increase sales, and that is the company’s main objective.
Processed foods go through a refining process, and many times, this removes essential nutrients like fiber, iron, and B vitamins. This is done by manufacturers for two reasons – to give the end product a more palatable texture and to extend shelf life.
Pests are less attracted to foods that are low in nutrients. So the question to ask is, if the pests do not even want to eat this food product, how healthy can it be for us humans? Michael Pollan, a writer, said that one of the best predictions of a healthy diet is whether the food was cooked by a human being or by a large corporation.
This is important because when we outsource our food, food companies tend to cook in a certain way that is not very healthy. They tend to use way too much salt, fat, and sugar and tend to use the cheapest raw ingredients they can get a hold of. Then, they strip the original food from their nutrients and add colorants, artificial flavorings, stabilizers, and other preservatives to make up for what they took away.
Many processed foods masquerade as healthy foods, but these are “nutrients” added to a refined product, and it is usually done to give the impression that it is healthy and entice the nutritionally aware consumers to buy them. Remember that it is always about selling the product and increasing sales for the food companies.
The benefits of processed food, like making access to seasonal food all year round and prolonging shelf life, are hardly worth mentioning. These advantages are minuscule compared to the detrimental consequences of the prolonged ingestion of harmful and nutrient-free food.
Processed foods are simply not good for you. They are a significant contributor to obesity and illness in this country and all around the world. Most foods we eat are processed in some way or another. Apples are cut from trees by humans or machines, ground beef has been ground in a machine in some factory or by a butcher, and butter is cream that has been separated from the milk and churned.
There is a difference between mechanical processing and chemical processing, though. If it is just a one-ingredient food with no added chemicals, then it doesn’t matter if it’s been ground, turned into a paste, or put into a glass jar in a factory or small farm. It’s still real food. However, foods that have been processed with chemicals and made from refined ingredients and artificial substances are not whole foods that give your body what it needs to thrive. Rather, “food products” that entice the taste buds are addictive and destroy the body.
The processed food industry only wants your money. For the most part, processed foods are full of sugar, salt, and extra fat that contribute to obesity. They are also not straightforward in presenting the nutrition facts on their product labels, so consumers are prone to misinterpret the nutritional value of the food they are eating. This leads people to over-consume empty calories, thus leading to obesity and other lethal diseases.
There are several reasons why processed foods are not suitable for the well-being of the consumers who are the target of the food industry: the products are high in sugar, made for overconsumption, contain artificial ingredients, are high in refined carbohydrates, are addictive, low in nutrients and low in fiber.
In today’s world, it is tough to avoid processed food. However, as consumers, we should keep them to a bare minimum or avoid them altogether. Reading the nutritional facts is helpful but be careful as the ingredients may be veiled or apply to more than one serving. Though taste guides most of our food choices, we should prioritize quality over taste and minimize foods with many additives and artificial ingredients.