The 6 Red Flags of Unhealthy Processed Foods

As if we didn't have enough working against us, a recent study has found that eating unhealthy processed foods leads to higher mortality risk.

In other words, living off of junk food and high ratios of food that don't go directly from ground or water to mouth, decreases your lifespan by increasing your chances of disease. 

man with cage to stop eating unhealthy processed foods

At least not strapped to a gurney in a straight jacket, right?

I suppose this finding released by JAMA could be filed under "Well, D'uh."

Although, seeing as that American school kids can't identify basic fruits and vegetables, then maybe we need to set the bar lower than we think. 

Everything You Once Held Dear and Delicious

Very broadly, I think it's safe to say the more delicious something tastes, the unhealthier it is for you. 

Case in point, Doritos should be regarded as the Grim Reaper's bargaining chips.

doritos infographic

Doubling down on the devilishly delicious.

Also, the mad scientist in a secret, underground food lab who manufactured the artificial flavor behind the Burger King sausage Croissanwich is an evil genius. (You know you have a guilty pleasure of some kind too, don't even try and deny.)

Everyone's palette has some flavor weakness that food scientists have a way to exploit. How you say?

6 flags, and I'm not talking amusement parks. 

I'm talking the 6 red flags of the American diet: salt, sugar, oils, fats, dyes and additives.

Say buh bye to ice cream, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, margarine and spreads, pre-made pies and pizzas.

Aaaaaaaaand...your summer just ended before it even started.

unhealthy processed foods risks

Does NOT do a body good.

Know Thy Enemy

Basically, if a foodstuff doesn't go straight from the animal, ground or water to your mouth, it's been through a middleman and it's been processed. 

I saw Pat McNamara on his Joe Rogan Podcast appearance recently and he shared some quality wisdom. 

Pat suggested staying on the edges of the grocery store and to avoid everything in the middle. 

As he said, "if it's in a bag or a box, don't eat it." 

After hearing that, I had an "A-Ha" moment. 

Everything healthy is on the periphery, while the middle is a giant trap.

Keep that in mind the next time you go to the grocery store, while you look down at your cart in the checkout line.

To help you decipher between unprocessed and processed foods there's the NOVA classification system.

If you don't care to spend upwards of an hour studying up on food classification, here's a nice cheater article.

There are basically 4 groups: unprocessed/minimally processed foods, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods, and ultra-processed foods.

Unprocessed foods include "vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, nuts, meats, seafood, eggs, and milk."

Culinary ingredients include garlic, oil, herbs, spices, etc. 

Everything else risks falling into the bad for you category with a few stipulations. Not all processed foods are bad for you. Canned tuna, canned and frozen veggies, tofu, and beans are examples of processed foods, yet they're simple building blocks of a nutritious meal.

processed vs. unprocessed foods infographic

Thank god for cheese.

Here's another easy way to think about your nutrition.

The easier it is, and less time a meal takes to prepare, the more likely it will contain processed foods.

The longer it takes to cook and prepare a meal, the more likely it contains unprocessed foods.

Body Beware

Those 6 red flags of the American diet can turn eating into a game of Frogger as you try and safely cross your meal path while dodging imminent threats.

I found a nice article here that lays out the dangers of the 6 red flags. 

One of the things that people don't realize is that when your food is packed with garbage it crowds out the vital nutrients.

When junk gets packed into your food, it lowers the amount of fiber for example. Fiber helps to make you feel full longer and fewer calories. Thus, fiber prevents shoveling in more calories and more food. 

If those 6 red flags of unhealthy processed foods haven't been made loud and clear, here are the biggest perps that'll be flagging you down at the grocery store: certain breads, frozen pizza, diet soda, chips, packaged snack cakes, and candy

never eat unhealthy processed foods infographic

The cost of deliciousness.

A big part of eating right, isn't just eating what you're supposed to.

Rather, it's also avoiding what you're not supposed to eat.

If you do this, then you naturally eat right by only eating what's left. 

Is What's Left, Right?

Maybe not as much as you think.

Along the lines of where there's smoke, there's fire.

I like to say where there's popularity there's snake oil. 

Do keep in mind that the United States both invented snake oil and popularized the term. You can read that story here.

Two industries that serve as ripe targets for snake oil are food and fitness.

Shake Weight anyone? However cold, steel barbells don't lie. 

We need a Shakira inspired anthem for the strength training community.

But I digress. Food also gets targeted by slick and savvy marketers. Some may call them "deceptive" even.


By labeling things "organic", "healthy" and "natural."

A LOT of people have bought into the organic food craze without fully knowing if they're being sold a bill of goods or not. 

I see "organic" food shopping like going to Vegas, and the wink, wink, unspoken, unwritten agreement that "Yeah you'll have fun, in the process of us swindling you." 

Some "organic" food is legit. However since there's a lack of clarity in labeling and standardization, "organic" food isn't always what you think it is. 

In fact, although the "organic" label refers to the original ingredients, it does NOT reflect the process of how the food was made. 

For example, some "organic" foods allow a certain percentage of chemical residue on them. 

Here are some common foods that give a false healthy impression.

That "organic", "natural" cookie you just ate? It's still an ultra-processed food. 

So what's a healthy eating person left to do?

healthy food swaps infographic

Once you swap, you just can't stop.

Learn to Not be a Mark

Let's face it, we live in a country that's rife with scams, and pretty lax on consumer protection. 

The best antidote to becoming a mark for whatever 3 card monte or shell game is out there is to educate yourself. Read and learn voraciously.

Understand what your brain wants. It craves easy, simple, fast solutions to complex problems and will usually resort to oversimplification, categorizing and binaries to take it easy on your monkey brain.

A good first step would be to learn about food processing, the 3 stages of food processing and what qualifies as ultra-processed, processed and the home version. 

Know that all processed food isn't necessarily bad for you.

Once you have your head wrapped around that, teach yourself how to make DIY versions of unhealthy processed foods. 

Anything from TV dinners, to snacks to desserts, can be turned into healthy versions at home.

You can also throw out some easy, workweek, keto meal plans.

eating clean infographic

Myth: All processed foods are bad and full of chemicals.

If you were ever a G.I. Joe fan as a kid, then you're ahead of the game. 

You already realize that knowing is half the battle. 

It's always best to get your head in the game, before the game gets in your head. 

Thanks for reading Fringe Nation.

Let's all give ourselves a break, and the freedom to be human, imperfect and forgiving of ourselves. 

Tell us in the comments below what your favorite, guilty junk food is. Let your unhealthy freak flag fly high. No judging, only solidarity in the human condition!

Meanwhile, have a swell day, stay awesome and lift yourself above the ordinary.

woman jamming cupcake into face

The face I make when there's a BK Croissanwich in my hand.

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