Metabolic Health

Why Are Processed Foods Bad for Metabolic Health?

Helena Ezzeldin

October 12, 2022

Processed foods have undergone many physical and chemical processes to change or preserve their form. They are often cooked, canned, frozen, or packaged with calorie-dense additives. These additives or preservatives are not-so-nutritious chemicals that help the food item sustain its form for extended shelf life. The substances included in these processed food items are edible but not necessarily healthy. Some of the chemicals added to the products may negatively impact your metabolic fitness. For example, a study says that high levels of ultra-processed food intake can increase the risk of metabolic syndrome by 79%.

Most processed foods are often advertised as the healthiest and low in fat. However, they might have more hidden calories and sugar than their higher-fat counterparts and impact your metabolic health in multiple ways. The modern and smart HealthifyPro 2.0 comes with several features to track your metabolic health in response to your food intake. The HealthifyPro plan includes a biosensor system (BIOS), a smart scale, health coaches, HealthifyMe’s AI assistant, and a metabolic panel. And it provides insights into how your metabolic score and glucose levels respond to certain foods, which is particularly helpful when you go overboard with processed foods. 

Processed Foods: An Introduction

Processed foods are slightly modified versions of fresh foods. They can be minimally processed or ultra-processed. These convenient foods typically come in a box or bag and have a bad reputation for increasing the risk of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Whether or not processed foods impact your metabolic health comes down to their ingredients. For example, some are actually healthy, such as tofu, nut butter, frozen vegetables, precooked whole grains, and Greek yoghurt. The minimally processed pre-prepped foods, such as pre-cut and pre-washed vegetables, can be quality convenience foods for busy people. However, the seemingly healthy energy bars, frozen meals, breakfast cereal, and protein shakes might be high in fat, salt, and especially sugar. 

The HealthifyMe Note

What you eat and how often you consume processed foods contribute significantly to maintaining your metabolic health. Eating minimally processed food in moderation is fine, but many of these foods may contain high amounts of fat, calories, added sugar and sodium. Not only do processed foods have little nutritional value, but regularly consuming them increases your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. 

Common Processed Foods

Nearly all foods in a grocery store have undergone some degree of processing. But whole foods without added ingredients count as unprocessed. A food item comes under the minimally processed category as long as there’s no extra salt, sugar, or other additives. The easiest way to tell the difference between healthy and unhealthy processed foods is by scanning the label for added ingredients. 

Some common examples of processed foods are:

Refined Grains and Its Products

Refined Grains, including white flour and white rice, generally have no health benefits. Due to the heavy processing, refined grains lack nutritional value. Some examples are white bread, pasta, white rice, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, crackers and other snacks.

Sugary Snacks

Consuming too much sugar through processed foods, including sodas, juices, and candy will ultimately lower the metabolic rate. For instance, high fructose corn syrup can cause Type 2 diabetes and other related metabolic disorders.

Refined Oils

Like refined grains, refined oils undergo extraction and purification using chemical means. The solidification process to create oil will destroy the nutrients in the oil. 

Fast Foods

Fast foods generally have high sodium, fat and other flavour enhancers that can induce metabolic imbalance. They often contain brown sugar, corn syrup, cane sugar, maltose, or fruit juice concentrate to amplify the taste quotient. 

Instant Meals

Instant meal sources such as pizza, microwave-ready dinners, and ramen noodles have excess artificial ingredients. Most canned vegetables, soups and sauces have added salt. 

Diet Products

Even though labelled as a low-fat or fat-free diet product, some diet foods are typically heavily processed without natural fats and sugars. Added sugars are often used in low-fat diet sodas to improve taste and consistency. It is wise to avoid consumption if you cannot find detailed ingredients on the product’s label.

Impact of Processed Foods on Metabolic Health

Metabolic health signifies the balance in the rate of metabolism. Good metabolic health can reflect the absence of chronic diseases like high blood pressure, low levels of good cholesterol, high blood glucose, belly fat and a large waistline. According to a study, dietary habits play a significant role in maintaining metabolic health. 

The industrially created trans fats in processed foods can alter your plasma lipoproteins, including HDL and LDL cholesterol. Research shows that artificial trans fat promotes inflammation and cellular stress, increasing metabolic disease risk. These trans fatty acids in processed foods disrupt liver function and inhibit insulin sensitivity, possibly triggering insulin resistance. The food and Drug Administration (FDA) has banned artificial trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils. However, some countries are still manufacturing processed foods containing the same. 

Refined grains, a common example of ultra-processed food, have an enormous effect on your metabolic health since they spike blood sugar. The refining process can extend the shelf life but removes the nutritious bran and germ. By doing so, the carbohydrates get quickly broken down when digested, which translates to increased blood glucose levels sooner after eating. Further, the fibre in refined grains is stripped away by processing, reducing the potential to stabilise blood sugar. 

Your diet also determines what kind of bacteria and other microbes thrive in your gut. Research shows that a Western diet rich in heavily processed foods encourages gut bacteria that produce a pro-inflammatory environment. Unwanted inflammation is a primary factor behind poor metabolic health. Your gut microbiome responds to how much processed food you eat and what you eat. People who mainly ate processed foods, which tend to lack fibre, had gut microbes associated with metabolic markers of higher risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. 

The HealthifyMe Note

Processed foods impact your metabolic health in multiple ways, such as reducing insulin sensitivity, promoting oxidative stress and disrupting your microbiome. The major factors that make it dangerous to metabolic health are the high content of added sugar, calories, sodium, and trans fat. Various food items claim to have no trans fat, but still, they have added sugar and artificial flavouring. 

Reasons to Avoid Processed Foods

Eating whole foods like grains, vegetables, fruits, and seeds in their freshest state will provide an abundance of nutrients in the right amount. However, it is not the same for processed foods. 

Here are some factors that explain how processed foods can slow down and adversely affect the rate of metabolism.

Low in Nutrients

The processed food items have harmful chemicals in the form of preservatives. A study states that processed foods’ nutrient constituents do not offer significant health benefits. In some cases, the manufacturers try to add synthetic vitamins and nutrients to compensate for the nutrient loss, but it is still insufficient. 

It is important to limit packaged or processed food items and instead go for fresh, healthier options to get the proper amount of nutrients. Try to consume as less processed food as possible, and go for more whole foods.

Low in fibre

Fibre is a very important dietary component. It supports digestion and slows down the absorption of carbohydrates. Fibre keeps you satiated, making you intake fewer calories. If you aren’t eating fibre-rich foods like veggies, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds, then you’re probably eating more processed foods, including carbohydrate-rich foods made from refined white flour.

The lack of fibre in processed food makes you hungry even after meals. These processed foods aren’t just unsatisfying but can lead to further cravings. As a result, you tend to snack more throughout the day, leading to weight gain. 

Added Sugar

Food products like ketchup, candy, chocolates, ice cream, yoghurt, cakes, cookies, pies, packed beverages like cold drinks, and some fruit drinks contain a large amount of added sugar. The amount of sugar intake has a direct relation to adversely affecting the metabolism. There are various health issues due to increased sugar levels. Upon unhealthy increases in blood sugar, your organs get affected. The condition leads to multiple diseases like diabetes and heart attacks. 

Refined Carbohydrates

Natural carbohydrates derived from whole foods are healthier than refined carbohydrates. It is because refined carbohydrates are synthesised and broken down very quickly. It will rapidly increase insulin levels, leading to a blood sugar spike. Such a sudden increase in blood sugar is very harmful to your metabolic health. 

Calorie Content

The amount of calories present in processed food is very high. A large amount of unhealthy calories results in a decrease in metabolic rate. It is also a reason for increased body weight and might lead to severe conditions like obesity. 

Artificial Ingredients

If you had noticed the ingredient list in the food packets, you would come across terms like added flavour, texture agents, or food colouring. There also might be some unknown substances that are chemicals. These artificial ingredients do not cause much harm when present in small amounts. But if you are habitual with processed food, you take these artificial ingredients daily or in every meal. It is when the problem arises and causes much harm to your body. 

Promote Oxidative Stress

Many of the food processing techniques involve exposure to heat or light. It promotes lipid oxidation in processed foods, which increases the number of free radicals. Eating too many of these foods, such as oxidised seed oils, causes oxidative stress in your body. The free radicals associated with oxidative stress can cause damage to tissue and DNA.

Healthy Dietary Choices For You

It’s never too late to start a nutritious regimen. Instead of packaged and processed food, eating fresh and whole foods will be nutritious and healthy. Processed food adversely affects your metabolism. However, following a healthy diet and sustainable lifestyle choices will help to maintain your metabolic rate.

One should replace canned fruits with fresh farm fruits, replace ketchup with homemade sauce, and packaged snacks with freshly homemade recipes. Some fresh and healthy, whole foods that should be a part of your diet are:

  • Farm fresh vegetables and fruits or frozen or unsweetened dried fruits
  • Grains such as quinoa, brown rice and buckwheat
  • Homemade soup, instead of processed soup mix
  • Legumes, including beans and lentils
  • Starchy root vegetables like potatoes, cassava, and sweet potatoes
  • Eat poultry, eggs, and fish
  • Olive and avocado oil
  • Fresh or pasteurised milk and plain yoghurt
  • Fresh homemade fruit or vegetable juice
  • Herbs and spices
  • Green tea with fresh herbs
  • Nuts and seeds

These are the food products that have no processing. You can get them anywhere in the market, but it is advisable to buy from the local market, which ensures freshness. These fresh and whole foods will help you increase your metabolic rate. It will be very helpful in avoiding various diseases caused by metabolic imbalance. Whole foods are a healthy dietary source because they involve minimal to no processing, meaning no added chemicals, preservatives, or added sugar.  

Acquiring a healthier diet does not mean you must completely abandon all the packaged food. Sometimes, it becomes impossible. The only solution is to choose fresh food whenever available. It is best to minimise the use of packaged food daily or every meal. 

Eating packaged food in moderation will not specifically harm your body. Although, it is also important to keep an eye on the fact that if you are already suffering from metabolic disbalance or diseases like high blood pressure, sugar, or diabetes, it is best to stick with fresh and whole foods. It would be best to consult your doctor for a diet plan based on your condition.


Some processed foods fortified with calcium and vitamin D serve as quality convenience foods. However, intake of too much added sugar, synthetic carbohydrate, low nutrient and fibre, extra calorie content, and trans fat lead to metabolic disbalance and health issues.

Even a little bit of ultra-processed foods can significantly impact metabolic fitness. Minimally processed foods can be a nutrient-rich option if you eat them in moderation and avoid certain packaging types that are harmful to health. If you’re picking up something in a packet, box or bag, look at the nutritional information to avoid high levels of salt, sugar, or refined seed oils. 

If boosting metabolism is your primary goal, it is critical to consume a balanced and healthy diet full of nutritious food items. Adding more processed food will hinder the ability of the body to undergo metabolic reactions by limiting the utilisation of nutrients. In simple terms, opt for choices that look like real food.

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