Hazardous Effects of Refined Foods on Health

By: Pallavi Vathiar. Practicing Clinical Nutritionist, Mumbai

Email: fihealthie@gmail.com

Refined  food is any food that’s altered during preparation to make it more convenient, shelf-stable or flavorful. Most foods we eat have been refined and processed in some way by the time they reach our plates. However, the concern about processed food isn’t over. Refined or simple carbs have had most of the nutrients and fibre removed. Eating refined carbs is linked to drastically increased risk of many diseases, including obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Almost every nutrition expert agrees that refined carbs should be limited.

Health Risks of Heavily Processed Foods

There are many potential health effects of ultra processed foods, including:

  • Too much sugar, sodium and fat.
  • Lacking in nutritional value.
  • Calorie dense and addicting.
  • Quicker to digest.
  • Full of artificial ingredients.
  • Sabotages sleep
  • Creates mood swings
  • Contains processed oils and trans fats

Refined Flour

Known as ‘White poison’, white flour is becoming necessity for all of us but it impacts our health drastically. It is very important to understand why it is bad and how much it can harm us so that we can improve our eating habits. During processing of Maida from wheat, endosperm of the wheat is removed from the germ (wheat germ) and the bran (wheat bran), which is very crucial for digestion. As all necessary nutrients are lost during processing of Maida, foods made from it utilize nutrients from the body for absorption. As a result, our body gets depleted of vitamins and minerals.

They are also digested quickly, and have a high glycaemic index. This means that they lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels after meals. Eating foods high on the glycaemic index has been linked to overeating and increased risk of many diseases (1,2).

Diets high in refined carbs also tend to be low in fibre. Low-fibre diets have been linked with an increased risk of diseases like heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and various digestive problems (3, 4 ,5).

Refined Sugar

Sugar has a bittersweet reputation when it comes to health. Sugar occurs naturally in all foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, grains, and dairy. Consuming whole foods that contain natural sugar is okay. Plant foods also have high amounts of fibre, essential minerals, and antioxidants, and dairy foods contain protein and calcium.

Consuming a lot of processed foods, including high-sugar products such as cakes and sugary drinks, has been associated with a higher risk of depression. A study following 8,000 people for 22 years showed that men who consumed 67 grams or more of sugar per day were 23% more likely to develop depression than men who ate less than 40 grams per day (6). Another study in over 69,000 women demonstrated that those with the highest intakes of added sugars had a significantly greater risk of depression, compared to those with the lowest intakes (7).

Refined Oil

The high temperature involved in the refining process removes all the natural and beneficial substances from the oil. It instead increases the trans fats of the oil which is detrimental to your heart health. Regular consumption of this oil can act as a slow poison for your heart and can cause heart attacks or blockage.

Refined vegetable oils were not available until the 20th century, when the technology to extract them became available. These are extracted from plants using either a chemical solvent or oil mill. Then they are often purified, refined, and sometimes chemically altered. Health-conscious consumers prefer oils that are made by crushing or pressing plants or seeds, rather than those produced using chemicals.

In the process of making and refining these types of oils, it leads to PUFas (rancid polyunsaturated fatty acids) which DO NOT hold up well to high heats.  In the process of being extracted from the seed these oils oxidize and turn into Trans fats.  The smell is so rancid that a cleaning process has to take place using bleach to deodorize it (8).


  • Canola oil
  • Vegetable oil
  • Soybean
  • Safflower
  • Corn oils
  • Margarine (or any other ‘buttery’ spread)


  • EVOO (Extra virgin olive oil)
  • Olive oil
  • Organic Butter
  • Coconut oil

Refined Salt

Salt is also called sodium chloride (NaCl). It consists of 40% sodium and 60% chloride, by weight.

Salt is by far the biggest dietary source of sodium, and the words “salt” and “sodium” are often used interchangeably. Some varieties of salt may contain trace amounts of calcium, potassium, iron and zinc. Iodine is often added to table salt. The essential minerals in salt act as important electrolytes in the body. They help with fluid balance, nerve transmission and muscle function.

Salt is harvested in two main ways: from salt mines and by evaporating sea water or other mineral-rich water. There are actually many types of salt available. Common varieties include plain table salt, Himalayan pink salt and sea salt.

High Salt Intake is Linked to Stomach Cancer. A massive review article from 2012 looked at data from 7 prospective studies, including a total of 268,718 participants. It found that people with high salt intake have a 68% higher risk of stomach cancer, compared to those who have a low intake (9).

Theories have been presented that_

  • Growth of bacteria: High salt intake may increase the growth of Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria that can lead to inflammation and gastric ulcers. This may increase the risk of stomach cancer (10, 11).
  • Damage to stomach lining: A diet high in salt may damage and inflame the stomach lining, thus exposing it to carcinogens (12, 13).


  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10885323/
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12841427/
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19335713/
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24030179/
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12146567/
  6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28751637/
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26109579/
  8. https://happilyunprocessed.com/the-basics/refined-oils-and-why-you-should-never-eat-them/
  9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22296873/
  10. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17510398/
  11. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23989802/
  12. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21081930/
  13. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16450397/

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