Food & Nutrition

10 Things That Happen When You Stop Eating Processed Foods

These benefits might make you rethink your grocery choices.

There are different levels of processing

Honey-cake on the production line at the bakery ASA studio/Shutterstock

Simply picking a blueberry is technically “food processing,” says Malina Linkas Malkani, MS, RDN, CDN, media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “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 recognizable 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

Cooking food in metal saucepan, adding salt by chef hands. Food concept background.Anton Chernov/Shutterstock

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 Deborah Malkoff-Cohen, MS, RD, CDN, CDE. 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 normalizes 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. Here are 9 foods that might take years off your life

Your mood will eventually improve

Young African businesswoman wearing glasses and laughing while standing alone in a modern officeFlamingo Images/Shutterstock

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 fiber 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 Carol Aguirre, MS, RD/LDN. “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.” 

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