Processed foods aren’t known for their health benefits. They contain little nutritional value, if any, and they are also high in additives and preservatives in order to improve appearance and prolong shelf-life. This is known as chemical processing.

One thing processed foods are commonly known for is their sugar content, and as you know, when consumed in excess amounts, can do a number on your health. Sugar is not only bad for the waistline (with the potential to lead to obesity), but it also increases your risk of developing diabetes, and also increases your risk of developing cavities (tooth decay) and therefore requiring dental procedures such as fillings or root canals later on. Sugar can also have adverse effects on your metabolism. Many of the processed foods that we consume are also designed to trick the brain into thinking it’s something we need by engineering them to look and taste as desirable as possible, and this is what also leads to overconsumption.

The ingredients on processed foods are something else you need to pay attention to. Chances are if you can’t pronounce the ingredient, then it’s a good you should be staying as far away from as possible. Many of these ingredients are either preservatives (which are used to prevent foods from rotting), colorants (which are used to give foods a specific colour), artificial flavouring, as well as texturants. Processed foods will also often include an even larger number of chemicals that manufacturers aren’t required to disclose, so you really don’t know what you’re putting into your body. They’re also high in simple carbohydrates. These generally break down quite quickly in the digestive tract, which can cause your blood sugar and insulin levels to rapidly spike and then crash. Once your blood sugar levels have dropped down, you’ll find yourself craving those carbohydrates all over again.

Along with unhealthy ingredients and the potential health risks that we know they already pose, research has shown a possible link between consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer, with the risk of developing cancer increasing by as much as 10%. Compared to other processed foods, ultra-processed foods are usually much higher in calories, added sugars and sodium. Ultra-processed foods consist of things like candy, chocolate, ice-cream, sweetened breakfast cereals, soft drinks, packaged soup, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, and French fries. The study also found that those who consumed more processed meats had a higher risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, while those who consumed processed foods that were more on the sugary side had an increased risk of developing breast cancer.

In order to prevent the risk of cancer and all of the other health risks that come associated with having unhealthy eating habits, the first thing you need to do is cut back on processed foods. The healthier foods you eat, the more essential nutrients you’re getting, which can actually prevent cancer and decrease your risk of developing other health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. To start incorporating more healthy choices in your diet, I suggest eating more fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains. If you’re someone with a busy schedule and tend to grab quick and easy meals (i.e. crackers, granola bars, or microwave dinners), try setting aside enough time so that you can start cooking your meals at home and also make sure to avoid cooking with ultra-processed ingredients like fats and sauces. Thirdly, diet also plays a huge role, and it often goes hand in hand with healthy eating. When you’re eating right and exercising, you’ll reap even more benefits.