Let’s be honest.
Food is good.
Good food is even better.
A lot of our favorite foods, however, are classified as processed foods. And while not all of it is completely bad for us, much of what we consume on a daily basis, we do so at our own risk.
Consider that processed foods can lead to one or more of the following:
- Increased chances for Type 2 diabetes.
- Increased speed of weight gain, leading to obesity.
- Amplified blood pressure to unhealthy levels.
- Higher risk for numerous types of cancer.
Taken individually it’s deeply concerning. As a whole, it’s downright alarming.
As they rightfully should, cancer and obesity both dominate media headlines. Aside from the obvious diseases though, there are plenty of other adverse effects that go under-reported.
These more subtle problems that stem from processed meals and snacks, and the ones that almost all of us deal with day to day. In many cases, they can have an even greater impact on our well-being.
Lack of clear thinking or poor brain function.
Inability to sleep which leads to feeling tired and sluggish.
Moodiness or a depressed state that often comes from a sense of “heaviness.”
While that should be enough to make anyone stand up and pay attention, we are still a society that loves food.
Unsurprisingly the foods we seemingly love the most are the ones that often end up as the worst for our health.
You already know that your body is complex.
We consist of many different parts, completing many different tasks, but all working together, ensuring we are physically and mentally prepared to perform every single day.
But did you know that much of what keeps you healthy and keeps you going originates with your gut?
Believe it or not, the majority of your health relies on your digestive system working at optimal levels.
At its most basic, the process of food digestion resembles something like this:
- You eat. As you chew, your mouth, including your teeth and saliva, break down and moisten the food particles promoting smoother movement through your digestive tract.
- You swallow. The smaller food particles then move down your esophagus, which serves as a tunnel between your mouth and stomach.
- You digest. Your stomach produces acid and enzymes that further break down the food, allowing it to process more efficiently throughout your body.
Obviously, there’s plenty of additional moving parts that include your small and large intestines, your pancreas, and your liver.
The end result though is your digestive system processing the food you eat into nutrients that your body needs to function and survive. At the same, this intricate network of organs and cells also works as a filter, extracting the unnecessary waste your body doesn't need.
Ultimately, what remains, acts as fuel. And it's much more than just staving off hunger and keeping you moving between meals.
What's produced and then absorbed by your other organs helps you think clearly, look your best, and feel good.
Perhaps even more important is that your gut is vital to maintaining a strong and well-functioning immune system.
You read that right.
A healthy belly can keep ailments as varied as headaches and pain in your joints at bay. Further, taking time to focus on your digestive well-being can even help guard against heart disease and certain forms of cancer.
In other words, maintaining a healthy gut ensures a healthy you.
Processed foods, however, can work against the delicate balance that must be maintained throughout your digestive system for you to function at your best.
In simple terms, processed food, prior to its consumption, is food altered from its original state. This means that any food that is cooked, frozen, or pre-packaged either by canning or bagging, is considered processed.
When you think about that definition for a second, you realize that a high portion of what lands on our breakfast, lunch, and dinner plates is processed food.
Staples like bread, milk, and cheese - processed.
Meat and meat-based products like bacon, hot dogs, and sausage - processed.
Even favorable foods like fruit and vegetables, depending upon their handling, are sold in processed varieties.
As we mentioned earlier, not all processing is bad.
Minimally processed foods or ones that are prepared to ensure safety or include beneficial additives should be part of a regular diet.
A few examples of this would include fruits and vegetables that are canned in water or their own juice or are pre-cut and bagged to make handling easier. Other instances involve milk or similar dairy products that must be pasteurized to eliminate bacteria that might make us sick.
Health-based processing involves the inclusion of suitable additives like that of juice drinks infused with vitamins or minerals that our bodies need.
Sadly though, a lot of what we eat and drink, and, in fact, a lot of our most popular foods fall into the category of heavily processed.
Many to the point that the additives they contain can result in long-term damage to our bodies far outweighing the taste or health benefits they may provide.
When most people discuss processed foods, they are often referencing the high taste, high-risk areas of our food pyramid.
You know the ones.
They taste amazing from fork to mouth, melting in your mouth or providing you with a rush of positive feelings that only the best food can deliver. Though later on, that euphoria is replaced with the all too familiar hand to stomach after effect and a heavy or sick feeling that we indulged too much.
These foods are infused with additional flavorings and preservatives to make them taste better and last longer. Things like heavily sweetened breakfast cereals, easy to cook dinners and snacks, and, of course, grab and go fast food.
Although processed foods include a host of unhealthy ingredients and additives, the three primary sources of concern are sugar (and its closely related cousin, high fructose corn syrup), sodium, and fats.
Whether it's together or individually, even a small amount of any three of these additives can wreak havoc on our bodies.
Examining the numerous health risks associated with processed foods, it’s not at all surprising that our digestive systems seem to be in a constant state of flux. Too many times in poor health, which as we pointed out will leave the rest of our body in a similar state.
However, we can limit this on-going consumption based distress with improved diets and far more careful food selection.
It can also be more than just the foods we eat but other supplements that can promote a healthier lifestyle and a healthier us.
Once such change includes the use of probiotics.
While not a panacea for an individual who refuses to alter any aspect of an unhealthy lifestyle, the use of probiotics takes advantage of something that already naturally occurs.
Our bodies, and specifically our gastrointestinal tract, contain between 300 and 500 bacterial species . Some good, some bad.
Probiotics are considered good bacteria and can be a significant factor in maintaining the health of your gut.
Typically, you will find probiotics in fermented foods like certain varieties of bread and cheeses, sauerkraut, yogurt, and even beer. You can also ingest them through supplements in pill or liquid form.
Probiotics promote intestinal health and aid with related diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, diarrhea and can provide some benefit for people living with ulcerative colitis.
Additionally, they can also build up your good bacteria that may have been lost in the use of antibiotics (which will kill both good and bad bacteria) and may even help with prevention of respiratory problems and improve urinary and vaginal health.
You may be thinking you can counter processed foods with a steady stream of probiotics, but the ongoing damage from a diet full of poor food choices can prove too destructive to overcome fully.
Probiotics are intended to maintain your body’s symmetry of good and bad bacteria, effectively providing a healthy and harmonious balance within your digestive system.
Comparable to a cigarette smoker who continually fills their lungs with dangerous carcinogens thus not allowing the lungs to heal, processed foods can create a similar cycle of damage.
By not allowing your digestive system the time it needs to both heal itself and then perform at its optimal level, you are negatively impacting your immune system, and in turn your physical and mental wellness.
Remember that your health is all about balance, in what you eat and how you treat your body. The health of your gut is the core of keeping this balance in sync.
Time For A Gut Check
You just knew that heading was coming, but there is absolutely no better way to define the directive we should all consider following.
As much as we like to believe we can all live perfectly healthy lives, making all the right choices, eating all the right foods and doing all the right exercises, that reality, for most, is unrealistic.
However, that doesn’t mean a balance can’t be struck to improve both our bodies and our lives.
Just like the digestive system requires balance, so too should your diet and food-based habits.
Limiting processed foods is an excellent start.
Adding probiotics through supplements or with foods rich in the bacteria our bodies need is a smart next step.
Most importantly though, you should recognize that your health and well-being begin at your core.
Between the cancer rates, obesity percentages, and the need to get your blood pressure regularly checked, understanding where many of the causes of poor health originate in the short term can improve yours over the long haul.
That’s a gut check we should all be willing to make.
Written by Anna Kucirkova, she speaks 3 languages has a passion for kids and writing. While she has been to many places in Europe and SE Asia she still wants to explore the rest of the world.