Processed Foods – The Secret To Optimizing Health

Posted by FJ Leto on August 26, 2021

Most of us know that eating processed foods are probably not the best way to achieve optimal health, let alone mediocre health, but they still seem to sneak into our diets no matter how hard we try to avoid them.

But is that so bad? Can the occasional bag of potato chips or that slice of pizza really be that terrible?

To find out, a good place to start is to define what processed foods really are.

A processed food is technically any food that has been deliberately changed from it’s original state before it is intended to be consumed.

However, this definition is incredibly broad and generally used by giant food companies so they can claim every food is technically “processed” unless you pick it off a tree and eat it (that’s right, no cooking!), thereby making processed food products the norm.

So let’s make a logical definition of processed food that an average person can utilize in everyday decisions about what they eat.

A processed food is any food that has:

  • additives you would not feed a spoonful of to five-year-old
  • undergone a process you would/could not do in your own kitchen

This definition is not bulletproof, and there will always be exceptions, but it is a pretty good barometer when trying to identify something that is processed and preserved versus something that is real and fresh.

For example, you may make fresh orange juice in the morning, but you don’t flash or high pressure pasteurized it then drink it two months later.

You may make fresh tomato sauce, but you don’t add artificial colors, sweeteners or chemicals to make it more red and shelf stable at room temperature.

You may make corn, but you don’t reduce that into syrup before you consume it.

Easy enough. So now that we have a fairly good understanding of what defines a processed food, let’s look into why they exist and where they came from.

Why Did We Create Processed Foods?

Processes, additives and refinements are used on food products to effect the flavor, texture and color, as well as make the food last much longer than it ever would naturally.

The intention behind modern processed food is to create the most pleasurable and rewarding experience possible for your brain so you enjoy food “A” over anything else, and want to keep eating more, because obviously, that is in the best interest of the food company selling the product.

At this point, almost anything you buy in a package is a processed food, like conventional milk products, cereals, breads, meats, and of course things like chips, candies, sodas, and all other kinds of junk food.

But where did this whole idea come from, to attempt to best mother nature by making food “better” than billions of years of evolution could?

Surprisingly enough, the answer – is War.


The military largely lead the charge in processed food development to feed soldiers in World War I and World War II.

The military needed cheap, preservable and packaged food so millions of units could be shipped overseas for months without refrigeration and still be edible for soldiers.

Back then, processed food equaled survival food. It was intended to be consumed in a time of necessity, not as a long term, staple part of the modern diet.

However, big food companies took these food inventions and repurposed them as products and offered them to the general public. These food companies realized that the science developed for our survival food could be marketed to the everyday consumer as a cheap, easy and a convenient alternative to cooking.

food ad

Marketers quickly creating selling points for packaged foods and targeted the growing number of women, who were now not only in charge of the home, but responsible for everything else while their husbands were at away war.

As free time and disposable income quickly seemed to disappear, quick, easy and cheap was a no brainer to the overly busy working mother.

Very soon, tv dinners, fast food restaurants and packaged foods became part of what it was to be a true, hard working American.

Processed foods quickly inserted themselves into our culture and traditions, making you seem quite odd if you would not eat things that came out of a box or can, or that lasted for over a year.

So the age of processed foods was born and so it has grown and developed since then.

This new booming industry turned food companies into labs, employing scientists to create products targeting the pleasure centers of the human brain, giving people sensations from their meals they had never experienced before.

Our bodies and genetics take millions of years to adapt, yet we have completely turned our traditional diets on their head over the last 50 years.

So what is this doing, if anything, to our health?

How Our Bodies Work – A Very Simple Version

Abstract model of man of DNA molecule. Eps 10

To begin to understand the effects of processed foods, we need to understand how our bodies work in general, to see how our diet can affect its natural state of optimal health.

In an extremely simplistic view, our bodies perform 4 main functions.

  1. First, we absorb nutrients from the things we eat and drink.
  2. From these nutrients, our cells create energy.
  3. The leftovers of energy creation are discarded by the cell as waste.
  4. This waste is then collected and eliminated from the body mainly through urine, sweat, bowel movements.

When the links in this system are performing at their highest levels, we are healthy, energetic and vibrant; but if any link breaks, the whole system is affected.

Lets look at how process foods effect this system.

Process Foods On Basic Bodily Function

Step 1, nutrient absorption.

Processed foods are essentially void of nutrients compared to the whole foods we are meant to consume.

Also, the enzymes present in whole foods needed to assimilate the nutrients into the bloodstream have been removed or destroyed, requiring your body to use its own enzymes to absorb the little bits of nutrients that are present in processed foods, so therefore nutrient absorption is low.

So for this step, I would say processed foods do not break the system, but they have you running at about a 2 out of 10.

Step 2, energy creation.

Since processed foods have been refined and are typically very low in fiber (unless it is added back), they are digested in about 1/2 the time or faster as whole foods, and quickly converted into glucose, or sugar, in your blood stream.

Quick conversion of refined carbohydrates to glucose spikes your blood sugar which sends signals to your panaceas to release insulin. Eating refined carbs essentially produces the same effect as eating pure sugar.

Insulin transports this (sugar) glucose into muscle cells which create healthy, usable energy for the body.

However, after these cells are “full”, the leftovers create a high blood glucose state, which is toxic for the body and can damage certain vital elements.

The leftover glucose that cannot be used by muscle cells, are taken to fat cells for storage to be used at a later time, which adds body fat, as well as visceral fat to some organs like the liver almost instantly.

When this happens, you get the inevitable energy crash and feel the need to eat more, since the calories you consumed were stored instead of burned.

For step 2, again, the system is not broken, but not working well. The long term energy your body needs to keep you running at your highest levels is not being created. So I would give this step a 4 out of 10.

Step 3, creating waste.

Along with refined ingredients, processed foods are more often than not, full of harmful chemical additives. These toxins need to be transformed, stored or removed, creating much more waste than our body is accustomed to with real food.

These toxins can also directly damage cells, which also need to be discarded as waste, on top of the chemicals that were introduced.

This creates an imbalance, where the level of damage being introduced into the body outweighs the level of energy being creating, resulting in a nutritional deficit.

For this step, I would give processed foods a 1 out of 10, since so little of the food product is actually made for optimal nutrition, and anything not used for fuel the body is waste.

Step 4, waste elimination.

Chains isolated over a white background.

Because of the low energy, low fiber, high waste nature of processed foods, our bodies cannot keep up with total elimination.

The leftover toxic waste floats through the bloodstream, triggering the body to capture it in fat cells as well as mucus membranes to protect itself from damage.

This waste is then stored until the body has extra energy to transform, utilize or eliminate it.

This is why it is typical to see someone doing a whole foods or juice cleanse lose 5 or 10 pounds in one day. This happens when the body finally has the energy to do some house cleaning, and releases the fat soluble toxins and mucoid plaque to finally be eliminated.

For this step, I would say the system is broken, and give it a 0 out of 10.

Toxins are high, sustainable energy is low, and fiber is usual zero, making it tough for your body to handle. This residual toxic waste created by the consumption of processed foods causes imbalances and takes the body out of homeostasis, which can lead to many serious diseases and conditions. Yikes.

Beyond Feeling Subpar, Can Processed Foods Make Us Sick?

The short answer – you bet they can.

Along with low energy and weight gain, high consumption of processed foods can cause much more serious diseases.

Processed food has now been directly linked with with hypertension, type II diabetes, cancer, obesity, heart disease and more.

Most people think that if they are skinny they are healthy, but a new wave of “fat, skinny people” has emerged from the western diet.

These people look skinny, but their body fat percentage put them in the overweight range. So if they look skinny, where is all their fat?

Paleo evolution

Fat, skinny people store their fat around the organs and in other internal places throughout the body called visceral fat. Even though they appear thin and feel like they can eat anything they want and never get fat, they actually just store fat and do damage in a less revealing way, causing all the same problems that overweight people face.

Processed foods almost always have some kind of vegetable oil in them which is extremely high in Omega 6. Omega 6 creates inflammation if not properly balanced with Omega 3, which is almost never in a processed food, making your whole body internally inflamed, adding to the difficulty of waste elimination.

Chronic inflammation has also been linked as a root cause of essentially every chronic degenerative disease in the western world. These diseases are largely preventable and sometimes even reversible when processed foods are removed from the diet.

Not only are processed foods affecting our personal and family health negatively, they are affecting everything on the planet.

Global Impact Of Processed Food


Look on any ingredient list of a processed food and you are probably going to find any or all of these ingredients:

Corn, wheat, soy, vegetable oil and some kind of sugar or sweetener.

These ingredients make up the diet of almost every human and domestic animal in westernized cultures.

The government subsidizes these crops, making it appealing for farmers to grow them, creating millions of acres of mono-cultured land which is a completely unnatural ecosystem.

These acres of crops require massive amounts of water and fertilizer, which run off to destroy surrounding ecosystems, usually by flooding them with nitrates, pesticides and antibiotics.

This food then needs to be harvested, processed, packaged and shipped, all of which takes fossil fuel energy and produces greenhouse emissions.

After we consume these foods, we need to throw away all the plastic and paper packaging, creating hundreds of thousands of tons of waste per year.

In fact, agribusiness produces more greenhouse emissions, detrimental effects and destroys more ecosystems globally than all the transportation industries combined (that’s trains, planes, buses, cars etc.).

So in a nutshell, if you want to help the environment, don’t buy a Prius, buy a plum.

This All Sounds Great, So Why Does That Candy Bar Still Look So Tempting?


Ever after knowing all this, if you have become accustomed to eating processed foods, meaning essentially anything that comes out of a box, bag or can, you may find yourself having a very hard time resisting them.

This is because processed foods create something called a pleasure trap in your brain.

As you can see on the chart, our bodies and brains are designed to consume nutrient dense whole foods, and when we do, we experience a normal satisfaction level after eating.

Since processed foods are scientifically engineered to give your brain more than normal satisfaction levels, your brain becomes super excited and stimulated by the meal.

Your brain then releases serotonin which makes you feel pleasure as a reward for the “superfood” it thinks you just fed your body, which make you want to do it again. However, you need to eat just a little bit more next time to get the same effect, because your body builds up a tolerance and sets a new bar for what normal is.

This cycle goes on and on until the only food that gives you any pleasure at all is processed food. Now you’re hooked, and the food company owns you.

This process is almost neurologically almost identical to someone developing a cocaine addiction. When studies are performed on cocaine addicted mice, given the choice between sugar water and cocaine, about 90% will choose sugar water until they are so obese they cannot move.

Processed foods can cause a no joke, very serious food addiction. You have been cautioned about tobacco, alcohol, caffeine, drugs, and a thousand other things, but guess what, the most likely addiction you are going to die from, is junk food.

The good news is, an addiction to processed food (which is usually an addiction to the serotonin release from the instant glucose spike), is fairly easy to break. It takes about 1-3 weeks of eating real food before your body restores its natural balance.

What To Do Now…


  1. Commit to reducing or eliminating processed foods from your diet. You can do this by:
    1. Cooking at home more
    2. Shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store, therefore avoiding things in packages
    3. Making a meal plan so you are never stuck in a bind where you have to grab something fast
  2. Learn to read the labels of things you buy in packages. Forget the nutrition facts, read the ingredients. Remember, if you would not feed a spoonful of any of the ingredients to a five-year-old, or do something to the food you would not do in your own kitchen, like flash pasteurize it, leave it on the shelf.
  3. Feel good that eating real food helps everyone, not just yourself. Yes, you will feel fantastic if you cut out these foods from your diet, but you are also voting with your dollars. You are voting to majorly impact the environment and help eliminate the diseases that are making us sick and fat, and costing us all 100’s of billions in health care (yes, you pay when other people get sick).

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