The Problem With Processed Foods
By design, most processing concentrates certain nutrients and biochemicals while removing others. This skews the natural ratios that we have evolved to eat. This leads to two phenomena which, over many years, seems like a bad idea to subject one’s body to:
- Over-concentration: Just because a little bit of something is harmless or even healthy for you, doesn’t mean that large quantities are better. Often times it’s worse for you, and even toxic. While supplements are an extreme example of this — consider Vitamin D toxicity, which is something that only happens if you get it in supplement form — processed foods in general can take a food which is a net positive and turn it into a net negative. So, whereas whole oranges you can eat quite a bit of and improve your health, drinking lots of orange juice is bad for you (the sugar content badness outweighs the micronutrient goodness).
- The missing 99.99%: There are tens of thousands of phytochemicals and other micronutrients in whole vegetables and fruits. So if you are eating a significant portion of your daily food intake in the form of processed foods, think of all the health-promoting biochemicals you are not getting. Furthermore, you were evolved to eat the entire package (i.e. the whole food), and if you are eating processed foods you are only getting a handful (less than 0.01%) of these things that are good for you. As Mark Bittman says, “It’s not the beta-carotene, it’s the carrot.” The point is not that you need every single phytochemical every day but rather you don’t which ones you don’t need and which ones you do in what combination, etc. And neither does anyone else. So the rational strategy is to eat a variety of unprocessed foods to cover your bases.
Here is Bittman’s TED talk, which is well worth watching: