Processed foods are cheap and easily accessible to most college students. However, they have recently been under scrutiny after a troubling study from the National Institutes of Health found that people on ultra-processed diets ate more calories and gained more weight than they did when offered the same amount of nutrients from less processed food. With news like this, it’s no wonder many college students pack on the “Freshmen 15”.
Researchers say that there’s something different about how quickly our bodies take in processed foods and how those foods interact with key hormones that help regulate our appetites.
This is scary news, but nothing new. For many years, other researchers have connected packaged and ready-made foods with more cancer cases, more early deaths and higher chances of cancer diagnoses.
So what’s considered processed food?
Scientists and nutrition experts often used NOVA, a tiered system that classifies what we eat into one of these four categories: unprocessed or minimally processed, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods, and ultra-processed food and drink products.
Unprocessed foods include edible parts of plants (fruits, vegetables, seeds, roots, etc.) or animals, as well as fungi and algae. These can be fresh, frozen, or even fermented — the important distinction is that they have not been treated with additives, injected with salt, or rubbed with oil until they’re about to be eaten.
Examples include dry beans; grains like rice; fresh or dried mushrooms; meat and dairy products; seafood; plain yogurt; nuts; and spices.
Processed culinary ingredients involve an extra step in production. These are ingredients made from unprocessed foods, like vegetable oils, butter, and lard. This category also includes extracted food, like honey from combs, sugar from cane, and syrup from maple trees.
Processed foods are items that get infused with ingredients like sugar, salt, and fat to help keep them