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Processed Foods: Are They Unhealthy?

Not all, but most.
 
Highly processed foods can be manufactured with ingredients that are not typically used in cooking. Packaged foods can also be loaded with high amounts of sodium, sugar and fat.
 
Susannah McCabe, registered dietitian with Oklahoma Heart Institute, speaks to the negative impact packaged or processed foods have on our bodies.
 
“Processed foods can contain high contents of added sodium, sugars and some may contain partially hydrogenated oils,” McCabe said. 
 
Hydrogenation is a process in which a liquid unsaturated fat is turned into a solid fat by adding hydrogen. The process creates two varieties of hydrogenated oil: partially hydrogenated oil and fully hydrogenated oil. Partially hydrogenated oil is extremely high in trans fats.
 
High amounts of these additives in our diets can increase your risk of developing heart disease and other health problems, according to McCabe.
 
“High sodium intake can increase blood pressure, as well as make our kidneys work a little harder than they need to,” McCabe said.
 
Our heart health may also suffer from the high levels of salt, sugars and oils.
 
“Added sugars can increase triglyceride levels,” McCabe said. “The partially hydrogenated oils can increase our bad cholesterol and triglycerides, and decrease our body's good cholesterol.”
 
So how do we tackle food shopping without putting our health in jeopardy? McCabe offers the following tips on how to make healthier decisions:
 
• When you pick up a canned or packaged food, take a moment to read the label.
 
• When reading a food label, pay close attention to the serving size and limit your portion to the recommended serving size. For instance, if the serving size says one cup, limit your portion to one cup.
 
• Scan the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and added sugars that are in the recommended serving. Keep these as minimal as possible. One way to do this is by using the 
Percent Daily Value (DV) on the right side of the label; keep that percentage below 20% when it comes to saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars.
 
• As you look over the ingredients, make sure the item does not contain hydrogenated oils. 
 
• The fewer items in the ingredient label the better! Choosing foods that have fewer ingredients can help you avoid the hydrogenated oils, salt, added sugars, dyes and preservatives.
 
Choose quality over convenience when shopping for yourself or the entire family. Watch out for ingredients that you wouldn’t find in your kitchen, such as high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate and gums. Seek healthier alternatives to some highly processed foods, such as quinoa, nuts and fruits and vegetables (such as frozen, dried, or unseasoned canned versions).