What exactly is considered a processed food? A processed food is one that has gone through a series of chemical or mechanical operations to preserve or alter it. Not all are bad (Greek yogurt, nut butters, frozen vegetables to name a few), but others should be avoided all together.
It comes back to reading the ingredient list. If you find an ingredient that you are unsure of, ask yourself, could you make this in your home? If it can only be made in a lab or through a chemical process (like high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oil, soy protein isolate, or aspartame), then consider it highly processed. Avoid it. Find an alternative. It isn't good for your body.
Ever heard of an "excitotoxin"? I hadn't until I started my health coaching certification; and remember, I am a practicing RN. Excitotoxins are food additives such as MSG (aka hydrolyzed vegetable protein), aspartame, food colorings, and preservatives that can alter the brain chemistry. Animal studies have shown some of these chemicals can throw brain neurotransmitter activity out of balance as well as damage parts of the brain cell called the mitochondria (the energy center of the brain). No definitive results in humans have been found yet, but some researchers believe these excitotoxins play a role in many neurological diseases including seizures, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's.
What Benefits Come From Excitotoxins?
These additives serve NO useful nutritional benefit, so why take the chance?? Remember when we didn't know how harmful smoking was to us?? I bet some of those suffering with COPD, lung cancer, etc. wish they had known what poison they were putting in their body.
Children have rapidly growing brains and may be more vulnerable than adults. In fact, author Russell Blaylock states a child's brain is four times more sensitive than an adult brain!! Adults and children alike can experience mood swings, severe headaches, lack of focus, and a general "weird" feeling.
The blood-brain barrier is able to keep many potential threats from crossing over into the brain, where the real damage can be done. Yet not all harmful substances can be kept out with constant bombarding; so it is best to avoid excessive amounts.
Sears, William, et. al. The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. New York, New York 2006.