There are different levels of processing
Simply picking a blueberry is technically “food processing,” says nutritionist and dietitian, Malina Linkas Malkani. “Food processing has been happening for thousands of years, and virtually everything we eat has undergone some form of processing, so it’s impossible to say that processed foods don’t belong in a healthy diet,” she says. “That said, the level of food processing falls on a spectrum from minimally to heavily processed.” Processing is an issue when it alters a food so much that the nutritional content, quality and value of the food changes, Malkani says. Minimally processed foods have recognisable ingredients, while the heavily processed variety typically include hard-to-pronounce names. Malkani suggests people weigh the pros and cons of any food while taking into account convenience, safety and nutrition.
It might get worse before it gets better
The body has to get used to the lack of sugar, salt and other added ingredients before reaping the benefits of eating fewer processed foods, according to nutritionist and dietitian, Deborah Malkoff-Cohen. Typical symptoms at first might include anxiety, bloating, cravings and headaches, among others. “These are the typical symptoms we can feel when we cut out processed foods mostly from sugar withdrawals,” she says. “How severe and how many of these you are likely to experience will depend on how processed your diet currently is and how sugar-addicted you are.” After a few days, the sugar metabolism normalises again, and those awful symptoms and cravings go away if you don’t give in and start the vicious cycle all over again, Malkoff-Cohen says.
Your mood will eventually improve
Eating fewer processed food leads to a better mood. The digestive tract generally absorbs heavily processed, refined carbohydrates and sugary foods rapidly post-meal, Malkani says. So it’s common to experience spikes and dips in blood sugar if you don’t also eat fibre or a balance of other nutrients to help slow the rate of absorption, according to Malkani. Skipping out on these other nutrients causes poor energy levels and irritability. There’s also a link between dopamine, serotonin and processed sugar that shows fewer processed foods in your diet could be better for your mood, too, says dietitian Carol Aguirre. “High fructose corn syrup, sugar and artificial ingredients stimulate the release of a mood-boosting neurotransmitter called serotonin,” she says. “This wouldn’t be so bad if your brain’s serotonin stores weren’t in limited supply; constantly depleting serotonin levels can mimic depression symptoms.”