Processed Foods to Avoid

by Jeffrey Traister

About Jeffrey Traister

Jeffrey Traister is a writer and filmmaker. For more than 25 years, he has covered nutrition and medicine for health-care companies and publishers, also producing digital video for websites, DVDs and commercials. Trained in digital filmmaking at The New School, Traister also holds a Master of Science in human nutrition and medicine from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.



Processed foods are found throughout supermarkets, grocery stores and restaurants. Food manufacturers favor processed foods to extend the shelf life of products and make them appear more appealing to consumers. Yet, processed foods with trans fats, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors and preservatives have inherent health risks that may affect you. Read your food labels and consult your physician about consuming processed foods.

Trans Fats

Trans fats, also called hydrogenated vegetable oils, are converted from a liquid fat to a solid fat and used by food manufacturers to extend the shelf life of products such as margarine, vegetable shortenings, cookies, cakes, crackers, snack foods and other processed foods. Trans fats are chemically foreign to the body and may elevate your blood levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, the “bad” cholesterol, and reduce your blood levels of HDL cholesterol, the “good” cholesterol. As a result, trans fats increase your risk of coronary heart disease and cancer. Some cities, such as New York, have banned restaurants from using trans fats in the preparation of foods. The FDA requires food manufacturers to declare any trans fats used on product labels. Read the food label of any product before you buy it to avoid consuming trans fats, especially if you or your family has a history of heart disease.

Artificial Sweeteners

Many processed foods and beverages contain artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame, to enhance the product’s taste. Upon ingestion, aspartame produces methanol as a metabolite at levels toxic to rats, but is assumed to be harmless to humans in low levels, according to research by Yasuo Oyama published in "Cell Biology and Toxicology" in 2002. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says methanol is highly toxic in humans and may lead to metabolic problems that include chronic pain, blindness and fatality. Aspartame may cause cancer in humans. Research by Morando Soffritti published in "Environmental Health Perspectives" in 2007 demonstrates for the first time that aspartame is a multipotent carcinogenic agent when various doses are administered with feed to rats, including doses close to the acceptable daily intake for humans. The research concludes that the carcinogenic effects of aspartame are increased when life-exposure to the artificial sweetener begins during fetal life.

Artificial Colors

Many processed foods contain artificial colors to make the products look fresh and attractive. Some coloring agents may induce allergic reactions in people who are hypersensitive. Artificial food colorings is associated with increased hyperactivity in children, according to research by David Schab published in the "Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics" in 2004 and Donna McCann published in "Lancet" in 2007.

Food Preservatives

Preservatives are common in many processed foods to prevent growth of microorganisms and increase the shelf life of the product. Yet preservatives, such as sulfites, may increase your risk of chronic disease. Sulfites used in dried fruits, pickles, shrimp and wine may trigger asthma symptoms.

References (5)

  • University of Maryland Medical Center: Trans Fats 101
  • "Cell Biology and Toxicology"; Cytotoxic Effects of Methanol, Formaldehyde, and Formate on Dissociated Rat Thymocytes: A Possibility of Aspartame Toxicity; Oyama, Y.; 2002
  • "Environmental Health Perspectives"; Life-Span Exposure to Low Doses of Aspartame Beginning During Prenatal Life Increases Cancer Effects in Rats; Soffritti, M.; Sep 2007
  • "Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics"; Do Artificial Food Colors Promote Hyperactivity in Children with Hyperactive Syndromes? A Meta-Analysis of Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trials; Schab, D.W.; Dec 2004
  • "Lancet"; Food Additives and Hyperactive Behaviour in 3-Year-Old and 8/9-Year-Old Children in the Community: A Randomised, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Trial; McCann, D.; Nov 3 2007

Photo Credits:

  • Alexandra Grablewski/Lifesize/Getty Images

This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or