It’s no secret that processed foods are some of the unhealthiest options for your body. Building your diet around these foods can potentially lead to weight gain and other issues like that tricky visceral fat. Visceral fat, the fat that wraps around your abdominal organs deep inside your body, is the result of a poor diet with a high intake of fatty foods, carbohydrates, and a lack of exercise. It’s one of the hardest kinds of fat to lose. High levels of visceral fat are linked to the consumption of ultra-processed foods. Eating foods that are highly processed with long lists of additives can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases. To learn more about processed foods you should cut from your diet, we spoke with Trista Best, a registered dietitian at Balance One Supplements, Catherine Gervacio, a registered dietitian and nutrition writer for Living.Fit, and Sara Chatfield, registered dietitian and nutritionist at Health Canal. They said that processed foods like bacon, ice cream, french fries, refined grains, and sodas cause visceral fat because they are high in carbohydrates.
Eating processed meats, like hot dogs, bacon, sausage, or deli cold cuts, has been associated with higher visceral fat levels. These types of meat are high in unhealthy saturated fats. Specifically, the fat in bacon largely contributes to its calorie density and leads to visceral fat.
"Bacon is high in sodium, cholesterol, and fat," Gervacio explains. "A high fat intake contributes to weight gain as it has a huge chance of not being burned as energy and would be only stored as fat in the body. Excess fats are stored around the belly, legs, arms, and other parts. A 4-ounce slice of bacon contains 444 calories, 42 grams of fat, and 75 grams of cholesterol." Yikes!
So, instead of starting your morning with fatty bacon, Gervacio recommends using lean proteins. "The best alternative is to make your own flavorful meat using lean portions with no preservatives, additives, and other artificial ingredients," she continues. "Popular dry rub ingredients are bay leaf, sugar, salt, pepper, juniper berries, and herbs. One popular alternative is turkey bacon which only has about 162 calories for every 4-slice serving. It carries 12 grams of fat and 68 grams of cholesterol."
The typical ice cream ingredients are milk, sugar, and milk. This tasty treat is unhealthy because it is an energy-dense processed food that has a high content of carbohydrates, sugar, and fat. It has a carbohydrate count of about 15 grams in a one-half-cup serving, 20-30 grams of sugar depending on the flavor, and 10-20 grams of fat. If consumed daily, ice cream can lead to visceral fat and weight gain.
"Ice cream is an ultra-processed food made with sugar and fat," Gervacio says. "This means it is so high in both carbs and fat, making it calorie-dense, and will likely be stored as visceral fat when not burned as energy. Ice cream's sugar-rich profile affects your blood glucose levels, which would increase the amount of visceral fat in the body. This may lead to insulin resistance which may result in diabetes."
While there are healthier ice cream brands, like Halo Top, Gervacio recommends opting for fro-yo instead. "Fat-free and sugar-free yogurt is one of the best alternatives as it is lower in calories and fat. Freshly-prepared fruit popsicles can also be considered. The natural sweetness of fruits and the fiber in them can contribute to lower fat intake. Just blend any favorite fruit, or fruit combo, blend it and freeze. You can make it sweet by adding coconut water or a non-caloric sweetener," she notes. Superfruits like blueberries, which helps burn belly fat, are a perfect addition to frozen yogurts.
This fried, salty, addicting fast food side can lead to a number of health concerns from heart disease to diabetes to cancer. On a smaller scale, eating too many fries too frequently can also lead to a slower metabolism, unwanted weight gain, and visceral fat.
"Fast foods are generally highly processed and tend to have large amounts of sugar and saturated fat, both of which contribute to visceral fat storage," Chatfield explains.
Gervacio agrees. "These convenient foods will most likely carry transfat, which is also known to contribute to visceral fat," she says. "In a study, it was discovered that trans fat can redistribute fat into the abdomen even if you are following an ideal caloric intake. When this happens, it can potentially increase the chances of getting an "apple" shape body or a body with more fat around the belly area." Instead, it may be best to make your own fries with baked sweet potatoes. Just slice the sweet potatoes thinly, drizzle a small amount of oil, then season with spices. And there you have it: sweet potato fries!
Refined grains, like doughnuts, white bread, and cakes to name a few, are easily converted to fat when not burned. The body then stores these fats in the belly area. And, unfortunately, these grains lack the fiber needed to reduce fat in the body and slow down digestion. Most grains are made with processed and inflammatory ingredients like refined carbohydrates and gluten. If eaten too frequently, refined grains can cause reactions like brain fog, fatigue, and mood issues.
"Bread will also increase the likelihood of eating other unhealthy foods and ingredients," Best says. "This is because bread is typically paired with processed meats, high-fat nut butters, and cheeses high in saturated fat. These combinations can lead to higher rates of weight gain and cholesterol. White bread is lower in dietary fiber than whole-grain bread options. This makes white bread less able to lower cholesterol, prevent overeating, and feed healthy gut bacteria." High-fiber grains are still the best alternative to refined grains. Whole wheat bread is the best choice. To make it sweet, you can add a bit of natural fruit jam or organic peanut butter.
You probably already know that drinking soda (even diet soda!) in excess can lead to health issues like tooth decay, skin inflammation, and weight gain. This is because of its high sugar and fructose corn syrup content. High-sugar beverages, like sodas, have been linked to visceral fat.
"Drinking sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas and sugary coffee drinks can quickly add excess calories and sugar that contribute to belly fat storage. Some large sugary drinks contain well over the recommended limit for sugar in a day," Chatfield says. Instead, she recommends, "plain water or, for something with a little more flavor, add some lemon or lime slices or fruit chunks, or try one of the many calorie-free flavored varieties of seltzer water. Plain iced tea is a good substitute with a little caffeine."