Think Eating Processed Food Is No Big Deal? The Effect It May Have On Your Immune System May Change Your Mind




By Joy Stephenson-Laws, J.D., Founder 


If there is one lesson that we all learned while dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that many of us are able to take ownership and responsibility of our health. For example, we are capable of doing everything in our power to help ensure that our immune systems are in the best possible shape to fight off pathogens such as new, unexpected and highly contagious viruses. 

Many Americans are now forced to assess their health and face the fact that it might be a good idea to finally get rid of excess weight and address metabolic issues. Being overweight or obese and/or having issues such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease are conditions that can wreak havoc on the immune system by promoting chronic inflammation and other problems.

(For a full refresher on the make-up of the immune system and how it works, check out this pH Labs blog).

Many people are realizing that they may need to make some major dietary changes, and I’m not talking about simply cutting calories in order to create a deficit so that we can just lose weight. I am talking about the quality of the foods we eat. To give you a bit more perspective on this, a person can certainly lose weight by eating just three cookies a day. This person, however, would most likely be irritable, hungry, malnourished and not have the most optimal immune system. This just would not be healthy.


Yes, this is a very dramatic example, but it is true that so many Americans eat way too many processed and ultra-processed foods. Processed foods are not in their natural state such as chicken, fish, egg, broccoli, carrot, grapes, apple, sweet potato (you get the idea). They are foods that have been heavily altered with additives and preservatives that greatly prolong their shelf life and make them addictively delicious. There is a reason why you may find it practically impossible to eat just one cookie or not polish off an entire bag of family size (large) chips. We have all been there! But processed foods are usually void of essential nutrients and full of sugar and/or salt and unhealthy fats. When we eat these foods regularly they can contribute to extra, unwanted pounds and the development of metabolic issues that make us more susceptible to being a high risk patient if we contract a virus or any other pathogen.

Some reports have shown that more than 60 percent of the calories Americans consume come from highly processed foods.

If you are not overweight but still eat a lot of processed foods, don’t think you are ‘off the hook.’ These foods may still be harming your immune system. In fact, a recent study conducted by the Environmental Working Group found evidence which suggests that a preservative found in the popular store bought breakfast pastry Pop-Tarts may harm the immune system. Even more disturbing, this preservative was also found in nearly 1,250 other popular processed food items, according to this Medical Xpress report discussing the study. 

The preservative is called tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ).

“TBHQ is a preservative that is pervasive in processed foods. It has been used in foods for many decades and serves no function besides increasing a product's shelf life,” according to the Medical Xpress report. 

“Using new non-animal test results from ToxCast, EWG found that TBHQ affected immune cell proteins at doses similar to those that cause harm in traditional studies. Earlier studies have found that TBHQ might influence how well flu vaccines work and may be linked to a rise in food allergies.”

This is some ‘food for thought’ as people continue to get COVID-19 vaccines around the country. Some of the other products mentioned in the study report that contain TBHQ included popular snack items such as Rice Krispies Treats and Cheez-Its.

How can you be proactive?

If the idea of eliminating processed foods feels intimidating or you are not quite sure what is off limits, a good rule of thumb is to stick to the perimeter of the grocery store (where you will find fresh produce and meats). Get in the habit of checking food labels. If a label has words you do not recognize or cannot pronounce, then I would suggest putting it back on the shelf. Think about those ‘single-ingredient’ foods. The only ingredient in kale is, of course, just kale! And despite just having one ingredient, these natural, whole foods are extremely rich in essential vitamins and minerals that may help keep your immune system healthy and help prevent weight gain.

Don't fall for the traps and temptations.

The truth is that processed foods are everywhere, and you will find them being practically pushed in your face on a daily basis. For example, Krispy Kreme is currently offering free donuts to vaccinated customers who present their vaccination card. Quite the oxymoron! Do something to protect your immune system and be rewarded with a highly processed food that does nothing for your health and immune system. 

Make routine nutrient testing a part of your proactive health plan.

So many of us suffer from nutritional imbalances and deficiencies and don’t even know it. We can have these imbalances and deficiencies for years, not knowing that they could be the reason why we tend to suffer from the common cold pretty regularly or can’t seem to lose those extra stubborn pounds. A comprehensive nutrient test will definitively determine exactly what nutrients you need or may have too much of. From there, a competent healthcare professional can work with you on making the necessary dietary changes and recommend quality supplements if necessary.

Move your body.

Along with a whole foods, nutrient-rich diet, exercise can do wonders for your immune system and, of course, for maintaining a healthy weight. Read here to learn how to properly fuel your body both before and after your workout.


Enjoy your healthy life!


Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or another competent healthcare practitioner to get specific medical advice for your situation.                  


The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.


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