Processed Foods Linked to Depression, Cancer

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Sadly, most families in the industrialized world subsist on a regular diet of processed food. Beyond the mouth watering allure of sensationalized food photography on packaging, food processing transforms real raw ingredients into what Michael Pollan calls “edible food-like substances”.

Processed foods are quick, cheap, and convenient, and we’ve been taught to believe they taste good. And decades of million dollar ad campaigns have successfully indoctrinated consumers into believing these food-like substances are safe and nutritious.

But processed foods can be hazardous to your health and the packages these food abominations are sold in should be forced by regulators to include health warning labels.

Depression Link to Processed Food

Recent research published in The British Journal of Psychiatry suggests that eating a diet high in processed food increases the risk of depression. Data on diet among 3,500 middle-aged civil servants was compared with depression five years later.

Study participants were divided into two diet types: a diet largely based on fruit, vegetables and fish, and those who ate a mainly processed food diet, such as sweetened desserts, fried food, processed meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products.

“After accounting for factors such as gender, age, education, physical activity, smoking habits and chronic diseases, they found a significant difference in future depression risk with the different diets.

“Those who ate the most whole foods had a 26% lower risk of future depression than those who at the least whole foods. By contrast people with a diet high in processed food had a 58% higher risk of depression than those who ate very few processed foods.”

“This study adds to an existing body of solid research that shows the strong links between what we eat and our mental health, said Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation. “Major studies like this are crucial because they hold the key to us better understanding mental illness.”

Dr. McCulloch added that he was also concerned about those who cannot access fresh produce easily or live in areas where there are a high number of fast food restaurants.

Food Deserts

Indeed, FOOD DESERTS prevent many people from escaping a diet of processed foods. As Slate’s Chris Wilson points out, a U.S. study by the Department of Agriculture found that 2.3 million households do not have access to a car and live more than a mile from a supermarket.

“Much of the public health debate over rising obesity rates has turned to these ‘food deserts’ where convenience store fare is more accessible—and more expensive—than healthier options farther away.”

Wilson includes a revealing map coloring each county in America by the percentage of households in food deserts, based on the USDA’s definition.

All Processed Meat is a Health Hazard

According to an analysis from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), an international panel of experts reviewed more than 7,000 large-scale studies and spent five years developing a report which concludes no amount of processed meat is considered safe.

“There is strong evidence that…processed meats are causes of bowel cancer, and that there is no amount of processed meat that can be confidently shown not to increase risk….”

“This was a much larger impact than even the researchers expected,” says Karen Collins, a cancer institute nutrition adviser. “People forget body fat is not an inert glob that we are carrying around on the waistline and thighs. It’s a metabolically active tissue that produces substances in the body that promote the development of cancer.”

Processed meats include items like bacon, packaged ham, salami, corned beef, sandwich meat, sausages, hot dogs, pastrami, and pepperoni. Processed meats are included in canned soups, frozen meals, pizzas, and prepared ravioli and meat pasta foods.

Of particular concern are the nitrates (sodium nitrite) that are added to meats for coloring, flavoring, and as a preservative. The nitrates found in processed meats are converted into nitrosamines which are associated with certain cancers.

“A 2005 University of Hawaii study found that processed meats increase the risk of pancreatic cancer by 67 percent. Another study revealed that every 50 grams of processed meat consumed daily increases the risk of colorectal cancer by 50 percent.”

According to Dr. Mercola, a 2007 analysis by WCRF found that eating just one sausage a day can significantly raise your risk of bowel cancer. Specifically, 1.8 ounces of processed meat daily — about one sausage or three pieces of bacon — raises the likelihood of the cancer by 20 percent.

Mercola claims other studies have also found that processed meats increase your risk of:

* Colon cancer by 50 percent

* Bladder cancer by 59 percent

* Stomach cancer by 38 percent

* Pancreatic cancer by 67 percent

Escape The Processed Food Death Trap

Don’t consume processed meats, or processed foods containing processed meats. Read labels for ingredients and check for anything made with sodium nitrite.

Michael Pollan, best selling author, journalist, and food activist says on the cover of his book In Defense of Food, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

And as WebMD’s Daniel J. DeNoon notes, probably the first two words are most important. “Eat food” means to eat real food — vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and, yes, fish and meat — and to avoid what Pollan calls “edible food-like substances.”

Three Choice Food Rules from Pollan:

1. Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. “When you pick up that box of portable yogurt tubes, or eat something with 15 ingredients you can’t pronounce, ask yourself, “What are those things doing there?”

2. Don’t eat anything with more than five ingredients, or ingredients you can’t pronounce.

3. Stay out of the middle of the supermarket; shop on the perimeter of the store. Real food tends to be on the outer edge of the store near the loading docks, where it can be replaced with fresh foods when it goes bad.

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Spence Cooper
Inquisitive foodie with a professional investigative background and strong belief in the organic farm to table movement. Author of Bad Seeds: A FriendsEAT Guide to GMO's. Buy Now!
Spence Cooper
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