How Processed Foods Make You Fat and Sick

Processed food health hazards: genetically modified organisms, high fructose corn syrup, TVP, MSG

Processed Cereals

Humans have been processing their food in various ways for thousands of years, right? Freezing, drying, preserving and canning come to mind.

So what’s the problem? I recently sampled a brand of veggie burger which shall remain anonymous as there isn’t much to choose between the various brands.

I found the veggie burger tasty, then I dug deeply into the ingredient list. My research strengthened my resolve, never to eat a “processed food” that has more than three or four ingredients, ones that I know are safe for me to eat.

Take a look at the long list of ingredients on most packages of processed foods, and you won’t find much actual food. What food there is has had the life processed right out of it, beyond recognition. Then there are all the ingredients whose names we can’t pronounce, and hidden ingredients the manufacturers don’t want us to know about.

The 100% hidden ingredient in processed food is genetically modified organisms or GMOs:

The main GMO crops are soy and corn, abundant in most processed foods in various forms: e.g. HFCS or high fructose corn syrup, TVP (soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate), soy sauce, preservatives and flavor enhancers like modified corn starch, xanthan gum, yeast extract and maltodextrin.

Jeffrey M. Smith, Institute for Responsible Technology, explains why GMOs are not safe:

“Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are the result of laboratory processes which artificially insert foreign genes into the DNA of food crops or animals. Those genes may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans.

Although banned by food manufacturers in Europe and elsewhere, the FDA does not require any safety evaluations. Most Americans say they would not eat GMOs if labeled, but the U.S. does not require labeling. GMOs are not safe, but have been in the food supply since 1996 and are now present in the vast majority of processed foods in the US.”


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“Genetically modified foods are linked to toxic and allergic reactions, sick, sterile, and dead livestock, and damage to virtually every organ studied in lab animals. (See summary in Jeffrey M. Smith’s book Genetic Roulette)

More information on GMOs.

Another common ingredient,  mostly hidden, in processed foods is MSG:

That’s right, even if MSG isn’t listed on the processed food label, chances are very very good, it’s in there, and lots of it. How else could they get us to want to eat that stuff?

According to MSGTruth, the following, present in many processed foods, contain MSG: autolyzed yeast extract (found in many processed AMERICAN foods), TVP or textured vegetable protein, soy protein isolate, soy sauce, carageenan, dough conditioners (e.g Microgard), mushrooms (naturally high in free glutamate), “natural flavors” (may contain up to 20% msg).

The Fit Shack tells why MSG is so bad for us and makes us fat:

“I first learned a little bit more about MSG while reading the book “You On A Diet“. There is a small side line about it on page 117 that states that MSG may influence the body’s metabolism in a negative way. It “over stimulates the glutamine receptors of the brain”, which means that it heightens the salty and sweet tastes of the dish containing MSG, while at the same time, it dampens the bitter and sour tastes.

Interestingly enough, MSG “may cause us to eat more” (Remember my post on HFCS? It does the same thing), and it can also cause higher levels of insulin to be produced.”

1. MSG stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. As mentioned above, “You On A Diet” pointed this out, however on MSGTruth, it is made a bit clearer to me. You see, MSG stimulates the pancreas to release insulin into the blood stream even when there are not any carbohydrates in the dish for the insulin to act on.

Your blood sugar ends up dropping because of this flood of insulin, and then you end up hungry again an hour or so later. Reading this gave me a “Wow” moment because of that saying “No matter how much Chinese food you eat, you still end up hungry an hour later.” I never connected this with the additive MSG. This really gives you something to think about, especially if you are working on losing weight.

2. MSG tricks your body into thinking that the food you are eating is nutritious, even if it is not. The reason for this is that your taste buds detect the free glutamic acid that is in MSG. In “taste bud language”, this translates to “hey, there’s protein in this food I’m tasting!”. Therefore, your brain gets the signal that the food you are eating is actually nutritious, while more than likely, it is not.

The pervasive pairing of fat and salt:

Processed food, including fast food, often is loaded with fat and salt, because that’s what makes it taste so good. It’s also what makes you fat, clogs your arteries, and aggravates high blood pressure, putting you at risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

If you have a lot of processed foods in your diet, chances are very good that your intake of fat and salt is far beyond the recommended daily limit. 2400 mg of sodium is 100% of the RDA. So is 16 grams of saturated fat.   There is no RDA for trans fat – i.e. you shouldn’t eat any if you can help it.    

Comparing a daily omnivore menu with a vegetarian menu – both reasonably healthy – we found that adding a hamburger and fries to  an otherwise reasonable healthy daily diet boosted fat and sodium into the danger zone.

Substitute more processed and fast food at other meals, and you could easily get double or triple the RDA for fat and sodium. Read the labels, or save yourself the trouble and just say no to processed food.

And then, there’s High Fructose Corn Syrup:

Even though the veggie burgers I sampled didn’t have high fructose corn syrup, it’s in so many processed foods, I had to talk about it.

We all know by now that HFCS is bad for you, but we’re a little fuzzy on the details, and we don’t realize how widespread it’s use in processed foods. And HFCS is also a hidden food, often listed only as “sugars”. I searched onHFCS and here’s what I found out:


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First of all, High Fructose Corn Syrup is made from GMO corn. why this is bad.

Second, during the manufacturing process, HFCS is contaminated by mercury, which puts you in danger of mercury poisoning if you eat a lot of processed foods containing HFCS. Children and pregnant women are especially vulnerable.

An excellent article, by Christopher R. Mohr, MS, RD, LDN provided a lot of useful information about HFCS.

Common Foods High in HFCS

  • Regular soft drinks
  • Fruit juice and fruit drinks that are not 100 percent juice
  • Pancake syrups
  • Popsicles
  • Fruit-flavored yogurts
  • Frozen yogurts
  • Ketchup and BBQ sauces
  • Jarred and canned pasta sauces
  • Canned soups
  • Canned fruits (if not in its own juice)
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Highly sweetened breakfast cereals

Problems Caused by Too Much HFCS

  • It can lead to higher caloric intake
  • It can lead to an increase in bodyweight
  • It fools your body into thinking it’s hungry
  • It increases the amount of processed foods you eat, thereby decreasing your intake of nutrient-dense foods
  • It may increase insulin resistance and triglycerides

Here’s Chris Mohr’s advice on how to avoid HFCS:

If HFCS is one of the first ingredients listed on a food label, don’t eat it. Make a mental list of the worst culprits, such as regular soft drinks and many highly sweetened breakfast cereals. HFCS alone won’t make you fat, but when HFCS is high on the ingredient list, the food is not the best choice. As part of a lifestyle that has many of us eating too much and moving too little, we’re putting our health at risk if we don’t choose our foods carefully.

So what’s the answer? It’s easy. Avoid HFCS by reading food labels and shopping the grocery store’s perimeter: Produce is on one side, seafood, meat and poultry on another, and dairy products, eggs and bread on the third. Avoid the center aisles, which are mostly stocked with highly processed foods.

The more you stick to fresh whole foods and avoid commercial and highly processed foods, the less HFCS you will consume.

Savvy Veg Note: Eating a healthy vegetarian diet with lots of fresh fruit and veg, nuts & seeds, legumes and whole grains, is a great way to avoid not only HFCS, but also GMOs, MSG, and excessive fat and salt.

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2 Responses to “How Processed Foods Make You Fat and Sick”

  1. Savvy Veg says:

    Hi Sue, I’m with you on all that! Eating out? Have a salad.

  2. Sue says:

    I turned vegan about 4 months ago at age 56. So far I’ve lost over 40 lbs. I’ve gotten some relief for my rheumatoid arthritis as a result, which is the real reason I decided to try it. I’m sure my cholesterol has receded as well. Our American culinary culture needs work. It is amazing how it is saturated (pun intended) in fatty foods, salt, starches, and sugar. Just try eating out and being a vegan–it’s a challenge. Our lifestyle in this country is non-existent–it’s a DEATHstyle…busy, busy, busy doing what? Most people I know don’t exercise because they “don’t have the time.” These are all choices we make.

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