What Those Snack Foods are Doing to Your Kid’s Health: The Effects of Processed Food

You'll want to know what those snack foods are doing to your kid's health. From brain development to learning, behavior and overall health, processed foods have a significant impact on your kids. By choosing real foods, you'll be giving them a leg up in every area of their lives.

In this fast paced world of convenience, it’s so much easier to grab the bag of pre-made snack chips and the box of granola bars at the grocery store. Many couples both work to pay the bills, the kids are going to school or daycare. Who has the time or energy to make snacks by hand or be incredibly creative with lunches? And when the kids are home, they want their familiar snacks. They don’t want celery or homemade granola.


Good food is too expensive and takes way too much time to make, especially if the kids aren’t going to eat it anyway.

Isn’t this how just about everyone feels about food right now? I’m only writing what I hear from parent after parent all the time. I talk about making our own snack foods and parents laugh. “I could never do anything like that” or “I would love to do that but my kids wouldn’t eat it.” Have you ever asked yourself why?

Just last night I was doing some research and happened upon this. Processed food is designed to get you addicted. Have you ever wondered why when you eat chips, you can’t seem to stop? There is a perfectly good explanation for this: it is designed to be addictive to keep you coming back for more.

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Processed food stimulates dopamine, a neuro-transmiter in your brain that makes you feel pleasure. Food companies know this and engineer their products specifically to have this effect. In fact, some of the processed food giants actually go as far as using brain scans to study how our brains react to their food and guess what! It is very similar to what happens to the brain after taking cocaine.

You'll want to know what those snack foods are doing to your kid's health. From brain development to learning, behavior and overall health, processed foods have a significant impact on your kids. By choosing real foods, you'll be giving them a leg up in every area of their lives.
Photo by Kazuend on Unsplash

Our brains are being wired to like artificially flavored foods and to dislike more subtle, nutritious flavors like a fresh carrot or juicy apple. But the real kicker here is what all of that artificial stuff is doing to our bodies. I know it tastes good, and you know for sure that you and your kids will like what you are eating if you just get the easy stuff pre-packaged at the grocery store. When I was single, I said the same thing about just buying the frozen dinner packages. At the time I didn’t know how to cook much of anything, and it was good enough.

No, I wasn’t loving dinner, but it sure was easier than having to figure out how to make my own. Oh, how my life has changed since then… Just tonight, I had about 15 minutes to have dinner on the table. I tossed cooked chicken, homemade veggie broth, some salt and some celery salt in the Instant Pot on sauté.

Once hot, I tossed in homemade sliced up tortillas and stirred until they were puffy and soft. Voila! Chicken and dumplings! On the side, I chopped home-grown zucchini and tossed in a steamer basket on the stove. I had a healthy dinner of chicken and dumplings and steamed zucchini for my family and me ready in 15 minutes.

Now I know the difference between processed food and real, authentic, healthy food, and I know how to cook for myself quite efficiently without a heck of a lot of effort on my part. Hopefully, at the end of this article, you’ll be thinking a little differently about your meals at home as well.

You'll want to know what those snack foods are doing to your kid's health. From brain development to learning, behavior and overall health, processed foods have a significant impact on your kids. By choosing real foods, you'll be giving them a leg up in every area of their lives.
Photo by Kody Gautier on Unsplash

What Exactly is Processed Food?

The word “processed” often causes some confusion, so let me clarify what I mean. Foods that have been chemically processed and made solely from refined ingredients and artificial substances, are what is generally known as processed food. These are all of the pre-packaged items you’ll find on the conventional grocery store shelf, like Wal-Mart.

When you walk in you can generally find anything you are looking for in a processed manner. Chips, granola bars, frozen dinners, cereal, frozen veggies, canned fruits, veggies, and meals, instant oatmeal, containers of nuts and dried fruits, sodas, flavored water, American cheese, lunch meat, hot dogs, bread, milk, fruit and vegetable juices, soups……. I could go on and on. Generally anything in a bag, box, can or carton that you find at the store can be considered processed.

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Unfortunately, most kids have diets that are nothing but processed foods. They wake up and have a bowl of cereal and 2% milk, then have a Lunchable or sandwich with American cheese and lunch meat, chips, a dessert snack cake on the side and maybe a juice box for lunch, and then it’s fast food, or something pre-packaged for dinner, let’s just say spaghetti and pasta sauce.

It sounds healthy. It does. But what you don’t realize is that your kids are getting more chemicals and fake food than they are real, nutritious food in their diets. And the effects are disastrous.

You'll want to know what those snack foods are doing to your kid's health. From brain development to learning, behavior and overall health, processed foods have a significant impact on your kids. By choosing real foods, you'll be giving them a leg up in every area of their lives.
Photo by Japheth Mast on Unsplash

How It Affects Brain Development

The problem with fake, or processed foods, is that they are heavily laden with refined sugars, refined flour, trans fats (healthy fats that have been transformed), chemicals and preservatives. Each of these ingredients causes its own host of problems.

A diet high in refined sugar, sugar that has had all of its good properties and nutrients processed out, overworks your body’s insulin regulator, causing it to give out all together. In children this leads to early onset diabetes, hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, and an overall bad relationship with food altogether for their little bodies for their rest of their lives.

It also damages the brain in a number of other ways including a reduction in brain function, memory, learning, and the formation of new connections in the brain. High-fructose corn syrup, in particular, may be especially harmful, causing brain inflammation and impairing memory and learning due to the presence of GMOs and a concentrated level of refined sugars.

This effect on memory can be linked to inflammation of the part of the brain that affects aspects of memory, as well as responsiveness to hunger and fullness cues. Inflammation is recognized as a risk factor for degenerative diseases of the brain, including Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. For example, one study looked at elderly people who consumed more than 58% of their daily calories in the form of refined sugars and flours. The study found they had almost double the risk of mental impairment and dementia.

Refined sugars and flours have many other effects on the brain too. Another study found that children aged six to seven who consumed diets high in refined carbs also scored lower on nonverbal intelligence tests where they had to show the examiner how to solve different problems rather than tell them.

You'll want to know what those snack foods are doing to your kid's health. From brain development to learning, behavior and overall health, processed foods have a significant impact on your kids. By choosing real foods, you'll be giving them a leg up in every area of their lives.
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

How It Affects IQ

Eating habits among children, especially those 3 years of age and under, shapes their brain performance even as they get older. A predominantly processed-food diet at the age of three is directly associated with a lower IQ at the age of eight and a half, according to a Bristol-based study of thousands of British children.

And then long-term consumption of refined sugars can create a wealth of neurological problems, and it can also interfere with your memory. It can also interfere with your ability to learn, which is why it is recommended by many health professionals to avoid pre-baked goods, refined sugars and corn syrup.

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A recent study that was performed at the University of Montreal has revealed that processed food can change the chemicals in the brains, thus leading to symptoms associated with depression and anxiety, especially in children. Besides, these foods can also trigger symptoms that are similar to the signs of withdrawal when you stop consuming them. These foods affect the production of dopamine, an important chemical that promotes happiness and an overall feeling of well-being. Moreover, dopamine also supports cognitive function, the learning capacity, alertness, motivation and memory.

When their little bodies are subjected to all of the manufactured ingredients in their everyday processed foods, chips, snack bars, fruit gummies, goldfish crackers, hamburgers, white bread, etc., children’s brains take the biggest hit.

As their brains are still developing as kids, they are never actually able to reach their potential in any of the above affected areas, because either development is stopped or hindered altogether directly by the chemicals ingested, or because their bodies are working hard to protect them from harm rather than focusing on development.

You'll want to know what those snack foods are doing to your kid's health. From brain development to learning, behavior and overall health, processed foods have a significant impact on your kids. By choosing real foods, you'll be giving them a leg up in every area of their lives.
Photo by Mike Fox on Unsplash

How It Affects Learning

Behavior, memory and learning disabilities are on the rise. One in six children now suffers from a disability that affects their behavior, memory, or ability to learn. One reason linked to this change in our children is they are no longer consuming the vital nutrients they need.

Numerous studies show that children with symptoms related to hyperactivity and learning disorders have low levels of DHA, an essential fatty acid. If a child is deficient in DHA, the brain does not function optimally. DHA is not found in processed breakfast bars, or in energy drinks or in fast food. It’s also not found in sugary cereals, processed snack foods, or soda. It can only be found in real, authentic foods like wild-caught fish, fresh dark, leafy greens, and fresh fruits.

Another reason linked to the change in our children’s behavior, memory and learning is that they are being given foods that chemically alter their behavior. Many studies support the damaging effects artificial colors and preservatives have on children. French fries, sugary desserts, cheeseburgers, chicken nuggets, and other cafeteria staples are filling kids with food that actually lower their brain power (lack of energy and focus).

While the intake of food is vital for proper performance, many of the widely available and popular foods in schools today are actually hindering children’s abilities to learn. Loaded with sugars, caffeine, chemicals, and sodium, many popular menu items are leaving kids tired, unfocused, jittery, and sick—which not only impact students’ grades and performance, but also influences their behavior and moods.

When they don’t have the energy or focus they need to learn, they drastically fall behind their potential for learning. Next to proper sleep and exercise, and the stress levels at home, a proper diet of real foods in all of the food groups ranks as the number one factor in academic achievement for children. And this is just saying that they need the proper foods to have the energy to stay awake and focus. It doesn’t begin to touch on the topic of brain-damaging chemicals that are attacking their abilities.

How It Affects Behavior

Child behavior and food have been found to be closely linked. Studies show that certain foods can cause or at least worsen behavioral issues like ADHD and other learning disorders. More and more evidence is pointing to artificial food dyes as a major cause of ADHD in children.

According to Disease Proof, food dyes are found in most processed foods, including cereal, juice, and candy. The dyes that are known for causing the most symptoms include Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, and Red 40. That’s probably why synthetic food dyes are actually banned in some countries, such as the UK, but most of the processed food in the US still includes them.

However it’s a widely known fact that the amount of sugar a child consumes will affect his or her behavior. Did you know that refined sugars in children’s food is not limited to candy and sweet treats? There’s also lots of sugar in flavored yogurts and chocolate milk – not so surprising. But did you know that there is also lots of sugar in savory foods, such as ketchup, bread, milk, sausages, and barbeque sauce?

Your child can consume a considerable amount of sugar even before you let him or her eat candy, and high sugar levels definitely contribute to hyperactivity. And all of these extra ingredients are taking the place of honest to goodness nutrients in food. In fact, all of the chemicals added, and the way the ingredients are processed, actually burns off all of the natural vitamins and nutrients before they even get to the point of being used in all of your food, leaving huge nutritional deficiencies in children and adults alike.

Serious nutritional deficiencies early on in life can lead to deficits in brain function that puts your child at risk of behavioral problems — from hyperactivity to aggression — that can last into the teenage years and beyond. Obviously moms and dads certainly intend to do the best for their children, and part of this can mean feeding them “regular food” that won’t set their children apart from their friends. But in doing so, our children are being sabotaged in ways that make it difficult for them to perform everyday tasks successfully, not to mention academic ones that take some cognitive effort.

They’re fed processed foods that can make them aggressive and difficult to control. Then, as if that weren’t bad enough, they’re penalized for their inability to learn and their out-of-control behavior. While changing a child’s diet might seem like a daunting task at first, many parents end up feeling relieved when they see positive changes in their child’s behavior, because it could reduce the need for medication and other treatment options, currently and later in life.

You'll want to know what those snack foods are doing to your kid's health. From brain development to learning, behavior and overall health, processed foods have a significant impact on your kids. By choosing real foods, you'll be giving them a leg up in every area of their lives.
Photo by Ashton Bingham on Unsplash

How It Affects Overall Health

Overall, there is a growing body of scientific evidence indicating that many chemicals in our foods even interfere with the body’s natural hormones in ways that may affect long-term growth and development. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of chemicals in food in part because they eat more food per pound of body weight than adults. Perhaps more significantly, children’s metabolic systems and key organ systems are still developing and maturing, so hormone disruptions can potentially cause lasting changes.

In adulthood, hormone disruptions cause infertility, sterility, and a host of reproductive diseases and issues. But most of the leading diseases plaguing the US are diet-related. Even the conservative National Institutes of Health (NIH) admits that four of the six leading causes of death in the US are linked to unhealthy diets from an excess of processed foods.

There are a variety of substances used in our foods under the guise of protecting them from bugs or crop diseases, keeping them fresh and good looking longer, and keeping them bacteria free so they are “safe” when they reach us and our dinner tables. But they is even more research proving just how harmful all of these substances are for our health and well-being.

Food additives are generally used either to prevent foods spoiling or to enhance flavor. They include substances such as chemical purifiers, preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavorings and acidifiers. A great number of synthetic food additives remain in use that have been linked to asthma, allergies, migraines, cancer and hyperactivity in children, just to name a few. Isn’t it interesting that the food we are providing our children to keep them healthy are the things that are costing them their health the most?

You'll want to know what those snack foods are doing to your kid's health. From brain development to learning, behavior and overall health, processed foods have a significant impact on your kids. By choosing real foods, you'll be giving them a leg up in every area of their lives.
Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

All hope is not lost. You may not be able to change the past, but you can start making little changes now that can benefit you and your whole family from here on out. Healthy choices can not only help your body fight back against all of the toxins, they can detox your body completely, and even prevent further illness and disease in the future. Real foods are fruits, vegetables, whole grains, full fat dairy products, healthy fats and oils and fish, beef, chicken and pork, all from reliable sources.

Nutrients from quality foods are critical in helping your child reach his or her fullest potential. Unfortunately, many kids are not getting the nutrients they need. In the US nearly 40 percent of children’s diets come from added sugars and unhealthy fats.

Only 21 percent of youth aged 6-19 eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables each day. This is a recipe for chronic poor health throughout their lives. It is a primary reason why many of today’s kids are arguably heavier and more disease-ridden than previous generations.

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If you want to avoid feeding your children processed food, you really have to shift the way you look at food and food preparation as a whole. So next time you’re about to grab a sugary processed snack for your child, ask yourself why you’re making that choice. If it’s because you’re in a hurry or you’re looking for a bribery token, take a minute to consider that motivation. You are the parent and you are responsible for your child’s health.

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You'll want to know what those snack foods are doing to your kid's health. From brain development to learning, behavior and overall health, processed foods have a significant impact on your kids. By choosing real foods, you'll be giving them a leg up in every area of their lives.

 


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