Sp its clear, we are a nation of convenience and there is food all around us to be eaten at any time. Part of that involves processing our food, this allows us this convenience. However we are slowly seeing a trend of people trying to reduce the amount of processed food in their diet which is a great thing. It isn't that processed foods are always unhealthy and in fact many foods need to be processed in some way to ensure they get to us safely e.g. milk pasturing. However ingredients such as salt, sugar and fat are sometimes added to processed foods to make their flavor more appealing and to prolong their shelf life. In some cases to contribute to the food's structure, such as salt in bread or sugar in cakes. This has a tendency to make food less healthy especially as its makes it very hard to determine how much sugar, salt and fat you are getting in your diet. Did you know that even when you buy a jar of tomato based pasta sauce you are actually getting a large quantity of sugar and salt in that as well. Things get a bit simpler when you are cooking from scratch, there is probably less sugar in a homemade pasta sauce simply because you decided how much to put in there.
So all this talk makes you think these fats and sugars need to be reduced, which is true. However, more importantly we should know why and what exactly is happening when these fats and sugars go into your body. All food broken down to its smallest molecules are the same. Carbohydrates are just long chains of sugars, simple carbohydrates can be broken down very quickly and complex carbohydrates take longer. For example; wholemeal bread is a complex carbohydrate, it takes your body longer to break down and turn into fuel than white bread, a simple carbohydrate. We need this fuel (sugar) for energy and a hormone called insulin is release to help us turn this sugar into energy for our bodies.
However problems occur if a sugar rush comes suddenly, this sugar spike in the blood is hard for the body to manage as a lot of insulin is required. So after all this insulin in released to manage the problem, we end up with a lot of insulin in our blood. This leads to rapidly feeling tired once the sugar rush is gone and us reaching for more sugar to provide us with energy, not a great cycle! Slower releasing complex carbohydrates (like the brown bread from earlier) release their sugar over time, reducing the spike, and the subsequent low energy cycle. Unfortunately, 80% of processed foods have added refined sugar (simple carbs), which are bodies are not built to handle on a regular basis. These regular large spikes of sugar leading to pumping out a lot of insulin can lead to problems such as type 2 diabetes, a very debilitating disease. Also, alongside the weight loss battle, sugar is the only substance our body can turn quickly and easily into fat with little effort. With large onslaughts of sugar that can not be managed, the body either uses this energy as fuel or stores it (as fat) if you do not require the energy. More sugar and less activity and we start getting fatter as a nation and this gain in weight as we increase our processed foods can start to be linked together.
Contrary to popular belief fat in our diet does not convert directly to fat on our bodies. Fat unlike sugar is not absorbed by the digestive system (it is insoluble), it goes directly into the lymphatic system (which connects to our blood system) in the small intestine. Before heading to other organs, like all lymphatic fluid, fat heads straight to the heart. Depending on the type of fat you have been eating this can have good or bad effects. The bad fats, saturated fats, are linked to heart disease, raised cholesterol levels and strokes. These are found in animal based products including meat and dairy and are hidden away in processed foods. However, good fats, unsaturated fats found in avocado and olive oil and these tend to sooth the heart and blood vessels, benefiting your heart and can protect against those conditions. So fats can either protect your heart or damage it, you just have to choose the right type of fat.
It is quite difficult to completely irradiate processed food from our diets but it is also important to realise that these hidden extras could be harming our health. Reading nutrition labels can help you choose between processed products and keep a check on the amount of processed foods you're eating that are high in fat, salt and added sugars. For those that are not experts on nutrition labels, and they are extremely complex to understand, here is a little guide to the amount that you should be looking out for in your food.
High: more than 17.5g of fat per 100g
Low: 3g of fat or less per 100g
High: more than 5g of saturated fat per 100g
Low: 1.5g of saturated fat or less per 100g
High: more than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g
Low: 5g of total sugars or less per 100g
High: more than 1.5g of salt per 100g (or 0.6g sodium)
Low: 0.3g of salt or less per 100g (or 0.1g sodium)