Processed Food: Whatever Happened to Real Food
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Processed Food: Whatever Happened to Real Food

Processed food might taste good but at what cost to your health. Take a look at all of the chemicals in processed foods and the health problems they cause.

I wonder if teens and young adults today even know what real food tastes like. They have grown up with so much chemically processed foods that that is all they know. Processed food might taste good but at what cost to your health.

I heard an interview with the person who makes the school lunches for a large school district. This school district recently changed their lunches to a healthier menu with less processed food and more real food.

What really caught my attention was the person in charge of the school lunches said that she actually had to show some of the kids how to eat chicken on a bone. These kids had been brought up only knowing chicken as something that came in a chicken nugget form and never ate it off of the bone.

What is Processed Food

Processed food is basically part food and part chemicals, in other words, processed foods are foods that have chemicals you would never use at home to prepare your own meals.

Processed food started out simply enough as TV dinners, something you could quickly put in the oven and then eat. No preparing, no cooking, just heat and serve. It was marketed as a miracle for the busy family.

Today processed food is much more deceiving. There is so-called health food that is actually just processed food, there is fitness processed food, there is vegan and vegetarian processed food. Many foods labeled healthy fat-free are actually unhealthy processed foods. I think the fat they took out might have been healthier than the chemicals they added in for flavor.

Chemicals in Our Food

A CNN investigative report found that McDonald’s chicken nuggets in the US had two chemicals that the European nuggets did not, Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) and Dimethylpolysiloxane [1]. This is not just McDonald’s food, it is in fast food and in the processed food you buy at the store and bring home to heat up. TBHQ is a petroleum based product that contains butane. So don’t think oil is only for your car. Butane, that’s the stuff we put in lighters and butane torches.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandates that TBHQ cannot exceed 0.02 percent of its oil and fat content. Death can occur when someone ingests as little as 5 grams. A single gram of TBHQ can cause vomiting, nausea, delirium, ringing in the ears, sense of suffocation and collapse.

Some will say that the amount of these chemicals in our food is so low that it will not hurt our health. Do any of these chemicals accumulate? Not long ago we might have eaten processed foods once a month, now it is every day and for many people every day all day. The liver is what has to detoxify this processed chemical junk and that puts an extra burden on the liver and other organs.

The Simple Hamburger Bun

Here are a few ingredients in a McDonald’s hamburger bun. I am sure it isn’t only McDonald’s hamburger buns either; you can find these chemicals in many of our every day processed food products [2].

  • Ammonium sulfate – According to the Materials Safety Data Sheet this stuff is harmful if swallowed
  • Calcium carbonate – Antacid with several side effects
  • Sodium propionate – Is used in bakery products as a mold inhibitor
  • Calcium sulfate – Pigment in white paint, soil conditioner and also known as Plaster of Paris
  • Ammonium chloride – Causes irritation to the gastrointestinal tract

What happened to real food? For a comparison I went to the Great Harvest bakery and looked at the ingredients in a loaf of their bread, the five ingredients are:

  • Fresh-ground whole wheat flour
  • Water
  • Fresh yeast
  • Salt
  • Honey (usually local honey)

Awash in Corn and Soy

Looking at ingredients in processed food, you would think the United States was awash in corn. And this corn is almost always genetically modified corn (GMO). Almost every processed food you look at in a grocery store will have at least several corn derivatives in its ingredients including high fructose corn syrup added.

Back to the chicken nuggets, the ingredients include corn starch, yellow corn flour and corn oil. In addition to the corn fillers there are two soy products in the ingredients, soybean oil and hydrogenated soybean oil. Soybeans are also mostly GMO. Half of these chicken nuggets are chicken and the rest is weird fillers and chemicals [3].

Beef is a Processed Food

Beef from factory farms or feedlots are fed corn; cattle are meant to eat grass, not corn. Include all of the hormones and antibiotics they also give cattle, practically turns beef into a chemically processed food. If you eat meat, buy range free poultry and grass-fed beef and if possible grass finished beef.

MSG is Still MSG

Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, one of the most common fillers in processed foods is made by boiling soy, corn or wheat in hydrochloric acid. None of those sound like vegetables to me. Many of these hydrolyzed types of ingredients are food flavoring additives otherwise known as MSG, which is unhealthy for some people. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is a free glutamate like MSG is, but the labels say “MSG free” [4].

Chemicals in Processed Food

Some of the ingredients in our food I looked at are also listed on I found these ingredients in popular processed foods like pizza rolls, macaroni and cheese, non-dairy creamer, breads and buns.

  • Aspartame is an artificial sweetener with at least 90 health related problems associated with it.
  • Medium chain triglycerides is for dietary use in people who cannot digest food properly like gluten or lactose intolerance [5].
  • Sodium tripolyphosphate is mainly used in soap and dishwasher detergents, in food it is used as a preservative.
  • Ferrous sulfate is iron and listed on as a drug to treat people with anemia
  • Sodium aluminum phosphate is listed as a pesticide among its many uses
  • Titanium dioxide is bits of titanium and is used in cosmetics and sunscreen. In food it is used to whiten products and artificial coloring and is now classified as a possible cancer causing carcinogen to humans [6].
  • Ammonium sulfate is used as nitrogen for yeast in bread and bun products, it is also used in fertilizer.
  • Sodium erythorbate is a chemical variation of vitamin C with general side effects listed as dizziness, fatigue, headache and flushing.
  • Guar gum can cause temporary digestive problems.
  • Sodium aluminum sulfate is a leavening agent also used for waterproofing materials.
  • Sodium metabisulfite can cause dangerous health problems in those with allergies or asthma. And it goes by other names like Disodium Salt Pyrosulfurous Acid and Disodium disulfite.
  • Sodium Benzoate can turn into benzene, which is a carcinogen.
  • BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) is a known carcinogen
  • Olestra can be found in some foods labeled “light” and has nasty stomach side effects like diarrhea and cramps.
  • Tartrazine or FD&C Yellow # 5 is a food coloring is associated with numerous health problems including suppressing the immune system and has been banned in Europe.
  • FD&C Red Dye #3 or erythrosine is a known to cause cancer and behavioral problems in children.
  • Other synthetic food colors include blue 1, blue 2, green 3, red 40 and yellow 6 all cause health problems and could be banned soon.

Processed Food and Health Problems

Food allergies, food intolerances, IBS, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome and ADHD are health problems that have increased dramatically. Could this be a result of all the chemicals in processed food.

Obesity continues to increase. Hidden sugars, hidden carbs and chemicals of all kinds are in most of our foods today. Could these synthetically made processed foods be part of the problem, is there something with all of these chemicals that causes weight gain or overeating.

Real food tastes good so why do these manufacturers insist on adding more and more chemicals to flavor food. Because they aren’t selling real food so they have to add more chemicals to the processed food to even make the processed foods taste like food. We are getting less real food and more chemical additives when we buy food.

Processed food destroys the real nutrients so they add synthetically made vitamins and call it enriched or fortified. I don’t think we should have to be a chemist to understand ingredient labels and what we are buying and eating.

Processed Foods and ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects at least 5 million children in the US alone. A 2007 study has found a link between ADHD and some additives and colorings in processed foods in children. The children who had the drinks with food additives showed more hyperactivity and shorter attention spans [7].

What You Can Do to Eat Healthier

Avoid processed foods and buy simple whole food for the ingredients and make your own meals. We really can’t always avoid these chemically processed foods, but we can be aware of what is really in these processed foods and learn to read ingredient labels and try to stay away from them as much as possible.

Copyright © January 2011 Sam Montana


Great Harvest Bakery

[1] CNN Report

[2] McDonalds bun ingredients (click on nutrition)

[3] McDonalds chicken nuggets ingredients (click on nutrition)

[4] Truth in Labeling MSG

[5] medium chain triglycerides

[6] Titanium dioxide Classified as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans

[7] WebMD ADHD study

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Comments (20)

Simple home cooked meals any day ...Excellent article !

Thanks for sharing

Well done Sam. up here on the mountain, there's always plenty of fresh vegetable during the growing seasons and home canned vegetables during the off-season. My freezers are always packed with Venison, bear, woodchuck rabbit and pork. I seldom buy processed meats and commercially produced vegetables.

EXCELLENT article, as usual Sam - voted up

Ranked #1 in Nutrition

Great one Sam, thank you.

Appreciate this article, Sam. Reminds me of Michael Pollen's succinct advice: don't eat anything your grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.

The best advice; If it comes from a plant its good! If its made in a plant, don't eat it! Nice one.

Great article!

Sam, I once bought Breyers ice cream, which was supposed to be so had 42 lines of ingredients. Needless to say I switched to my own home made yogurt.

There are just too much to be aware of that could keep us wondering how long can we live. I couldn't agree more on this Sam. Sorry I've used up my votes.

we eat more.. and most of it is not feeding us even half the nutrients we need.

good article

Ranked #62 in Nutrition

Love your piece! Sometimes you ask why chemicals are put into food when the reasons are so trivial. And then we actually pay for it! Pay to kill yourself??? WE'RE SUICIDAL!!! SUICIDAL I TELLS YA!!! Let's all plant vegetable gardens out back. That's my thought of the day.

Processed foods are easier to prepare and store. Thanks for the reminder, processed foods are really unhealthy. Buzzed this one up, Sam.

Great article! Lots of topical information in an easy to read format. Should be send to all school districts and a copy sent home to parents to get the word out!

Disgusting. I try to buy minimally processed foods and use much food from my own garden. I wish more people knew what they were actually eating, this goes for meat and the way it is factory farmed as well.

Whatever happened to real food indeed! I grew up on my grandparents farm and their food cooked in homemade real butter was by far more healthier than the smut sold in stores and restaurants today. I was shocked to read that a cook had to teach kids to eat off of a chicken bone. I have a hard time imagining that but I do believe it happens. I know families that only eat out because they "don't have time to cook". My rule of thumb is to avoid as much processed food as possible and tell everyone if it is grown from the ground it is good for you. As for meats like beef that you mentioned, can be bought locally at a meat processing/market and the taste of beef is so good and different that you will never buy chemically saturated meat again. Thanks for the great article!

Excellent article. I'm more of a home cooked/real food type person but there is one processed food that I love to make salads with during the summer foods. I really need to watch that. Excellent job on this and in bringing awareness to processed food. Voted up.

Amazing article! I will be showing this to my husband and all my friends. While part of you knows this is true it doesn't really sink in until you see it written down, then you wonder 'What the hell am I doing to myself?'

You had me until I got to the beef part. You said that cattle are not made to eat corn. Wrong. You evidently have never lived on a farm. Cattle's food of choice is grain/corn. Not only that, but corn is a grass.