What happens to your body if you only eat processed foods

Processed foods make for convenient (and sometimes delicious) go-to meals and snacks. Whether you've had a long, hard day working, struggling to keep up with your kids, or just trying making it through the ups and downs of life, there's really nothing better than cracking open an ice-cold cola and ripping into a bag of chips to wind down. However, if you only eat processed foods every day, your body is likely missing out on key nutrients it needs to thrive. 

As it turns out, all those processed foods are doing more harm to your body than you likely imagined. In fact, in addition to being high in calories, processed foods typically contain a myriad of ingredients that aren't beneficial to your body whatsoever.

But how exactly does a food become ... well, a processed food? According to Verywell Fit, "Highly processed foods are also chemically treated with additives or preservatives to improve their taste, texture, or to extend shelf-life." But what do processed foods even do to your body, anyway? Sit back, relax, toss that bag of potato chips to the side, and keep reading to discover just what happens to your body when you only eat processed foods. 

You'll get a lot of headaches if you only eat processed foods

Eating only processed foods is sure to make you feel not-so-great. In fact, processed food fans may notice a headache after drinking a Dr. Pepper or eat their afternoon bag of Cheetos. As it turns out, processed food can cause you to have a lot of headaches — especially if that's basically all you eat.

"Some people who have terrible migraines might be able to improve the severity and frequency by eating less boxed goods," registered dietician Isabel Smith, founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition, told Eat This, Not That! Smith continued, saying, "A lot of the processed foods are actually triggers for migraines." 

In other words, if you only eat processed foods, you will probably experience more than your fair share of headaches. Of course, if you want to cut out processed foods to help with your headaches, that's great. However, it's important to be aware that research has shown cutting processed foods out of your diet causes symptoms of withdrawal, such as — you guessed it — headaches (via ScienceDirect.com). Hey, you are what you eat, and it seems like many processed foods are total headaches. 

If you eat only processed foods, you won't be able to sleep as well

Eating processed foods could be what's keeping you from getting all your beauty rest!

Everyone loves (and needs) a good night's sleep, but if your diet consists mainly of processed foods, restful sleep might be harder to come by. Of course, there are plenty of reasons why you might not be getting enough sleep, including too much caffeine intake. However, eating processed foods — especially right before bed — is a sure-fire way to stay up all night.

Registered dietician Tanya Zuckerbot, founder and author of The F-Factor Diet, told Women's Health, "Processed carbs like cookies, pretzels, and ice cream spike your blood sugar." As Zuckerbot explained, these foods will likely lead to a crash in your blood sugar, causing you to wake up and potentially crave even more processed foods. If your daily food intake is mostly pre-packaged snacks, fast foods, and other processed food items, then your blood sugar is going to keep you awake at night. To get the best night's sleep, cut those foods out so you can wake up feeling truly refreshed.

Eating processed foods will negatively impact your body's ability to digest food

When you only eat processed foods, your digestive system isn't able to work properly. And as everyone knows, an upset stomach caused by digestion issues has the power to ruin your day faster than you can say "Pepto-Bismol." 

Your digestive system is made up of your mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, rectum, and anus, according to Cleveland Clinic. While those are the main organs involved in making sure your body can properly digest food, your liver, pancreas, and gallbladder are also vital organs when it comes to maintaining a healthy digestive system. However, according to Dr. Farshad Fani Marvasti, processed foods are hard for even the healthiest of digestive systems to break down. 

"These foods have various chemicals and additives in them that are very difficult for our bodies to digest and process," Dr. Marvasti explained to Insider. He continued, saying, "If you don't recognize the ingredients, it's unlikely to be a 'real' food, and you may have digestion issues and other related health issues."

Your skin will break out more if you eat only processed foods

Eating only processed foods could make you feel like a teenager again — and not in a good way!

Acne is never fun — and while most people assume it goes away after the teen years – adult acne is real. And unfortunately for junk food fans, eating a diet full of processed foods can actually cause you to break out more. "Sugar and refined carbs cause your body to produce insulin," registered dietician Tanya Zuckerbot told Women's Health. As Zuckerbot explained, insulin can then lead to breakouts because of an increase in oil production on your skin. 

Obviously, there's no guarantee that giving up processed foods will clear your skin right away, but it will definitely help. "Better skin is one of the major benefits of forgoing processed foods," registered dietician Isabel Smith told Eat This, Not That! She continued, saying, "A lot of the preservatives and ingredients found in processed foods can often get in the way of clear, healthy skin." 

You will probably gain weight if you eat only processed foods

Eating processed food every day is the worst thing you can do if you're trying to get rid of those pesky extra pounds. 

As obvious as it may sound, many people might not realize that only eating processed foods typically leads to weight gain. Sure, some processed foods are marketed as being "healthy" or "low fat," but that doesn't mean they're actually good for your body. For starters, a lot of processed foods are high in calories. "There are a lot of extra calories in processed foods that are just wasteful," registered dietician Isabel Smith told Eat This, Not That! 

However, that's not the only reason processed foods cause you to gain weight. According to Verywell Fit, processed foods can also mess with your hormone levels, which can subsequently lead to weight gain.  A frozen meal may advertise itself as "healthy," but the truth is that most of them have been highly processed — which is why you may find it difficult to lose weight just by eating Lean Cuisine meals every day.

If you eat processed foods, you're at an increased risk for heart disease

Eating only processed foods can really take a toll on your heart health.

According to medical professionals and heart health experts, eating a diet mostly comprised of processed foods can literally put you at an increased risk for heart disease — so you might not want that frozen pizza after all. In fact, Harvard Medical School recommends eating very few (if any) processed meats, refined and processed foods, and sugary drinks. This is because all of these foods have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. As the esteemed university's medical school advises, "high levels of processing remove many of the most healthful components in whole grains, such as dietary fiber, minerals, phytochemicals, and fatty acids." 

Additionally, Verywell Fit reported that eating a lot of processed foods has been linked to "metabolic syndrome, which is defined as a group of risk factors that can lead to heart disease." A healthy heart starts with a healthy diet, and processed foods aren't part of that equation.

Your joints might get inflamed if you eat only processed foods

Eating processed foods every day can leave your body feeling surprisingly sore.

Everyone knows the old saying, "You are what you eat." In other words, what you eat has an impact on how you feel — which is why you may feel like a bit of a couch potato after eating a loaded baked potato. However, your diet can also affect your joints – and according to experts, indulging in processed foods every day means your joints are at risk for becoming achey and inflamed. As registered dietician Keri Glassman told Women's Health, "The chemicals in processed foods are linked to inflammation in your cells which can flair up joint pain or arthritis."

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to try and reduce inflammation, such as adopting an anti-inflammatory diet rich in foods like olive oil and tomatoes. But really, until you cut out all those processed foods, the inflammation probably won't go away, and neither will your joint pain. If you eat processed foods every day, chances are you're going to be reaching for the nearest bottle of ibuprofen every day, as well. 

If you eat only processed foods, you could develop type 2 diabetes

Eating processed foods every day could ruin your ability to treat yourself to the occasional Friday night pizza and ice cream binge. 

According to Verywell Fit, "processed food consumption is also linked to metabolic syndrome," which can then lead to type 2 diabetes. And as explained by Mayo Clinic, type 2 diabetes has been linked to serious health complications, such as eye and kidney damage, high blood pressure, stroke, and even Alzheimer's disease, according to Mayo Clinic

In 2019, researchers in France found that people who eat lots of processed foods have a 15 percent higher risk of developing diabetes than people who incorporate more plant-based foods into their diets (via Physicians Weekly). According to lead study author Bernard Srour and senior author Mathilde Touvier, people looking to lower their type 2 diabetes risk should make an effort to cut down on processed and red meat, sodas, and other sugary drinks — while also increasing their consumption of veggies, whole grains, and yogurt.

Your hair won't be as lush if you eat only processed foods

Shockingly enough, processed food could be the culprit behind your bad hair days.

It's a universal truth that having nice, thick, voluminous hair is pretty much something that everyone wants. But no matter how often you use a deep conditioning treatment or get a trim at the salon, your hair just won't be as soft, shiny, and lush if you only eat processed foods.

Your hair reveals a lot about your health — and according to Eat This, Not That, a diet that consists mainly of processed foods is probably lacking the proper nutrients needed for healthy hair, skin, and nails. For instance, eating only processed food means you probably aren't getting enough healthy fats or omega-3 fatty acids – polyunsaturated fatty acids that have been proven to help your hair grow and shine (via Healthline). Unfortunately, processed foods hardly contain any sort of healthy fats. Of course, you could always take a nutritional supplement designed to promote the growth of healthy hair; however, the best thing you can do for your hair is to cut out the processed junk and stick to whole food nutrition.

When you eat only processed foods, your immune system suffers

Eating only processed foods will make it much harder for your body to fight off your next seasonal cold.

A strong immune system is one of your body's most valuable assets. However, if you're only eating processed foods, you're keeping your body from getting the proper nutrition it needs — and when your body isn't nourished, your immune system will wear itself down trying to protect you from any harmful bacteria and diseases caused by your poor diet.

According to NASM Certified Trainer CJ Hammond, processed foods like white bread lead to inflammation. And since your immune system's natural response is to try and fight off any signs of illness and inflammation, constantly eating processed foods will have your immune system working overtime while distracted from other types of bacteria trying to sneak into your body. "When the immune system is spread thin trying to regulate and prevent inflammation or fight off diseases it won't allow the body to use the immune system at its full capabilities," Hammond told Eat This, Not That!

Your anxiety could skyrocket if you eat only processed foods

Eating processed foods every day could be how you unwind after work; however, the foods you eat to de-stress may actually be making you even more anxious.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States, affecting a whopping 40 million adults. While it's nice to know you aren't alone in feeling anxious in your day-to-day life, an even better feeling would be, well, feeling less anxious. That said, if your diet is made up of mostly processed foods, you'll likely find it difficult to shake that weird, anxious feeling in your gut.

Registered dietician Linzi Cruz told Insider that processed foods are not only lacking nutrients, but they also can deplete the nutrients in your body known to help prevent anxiety — such as B vitamins, omega 3s, and magnesium. Additionally, a 2019 study reported that a link often exists between inflammation and anxiety. Considering that processed foods are known to cause inflammation, it's safe to say eating a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos will do more harm to your mental state than good.

Eating only processed foods will leave your brain in a fog

Processed food isn't brain food. In fact, processed foods are more of a brain drain. 

You've likely experienced that sluggish, two o'clock feeling, right? Otherwise known as "brain fog," this lethargic feeling can seem impossible to manage. "Brain fog is characterized by cognitive impairments to memory, attention, executive function, and the speed of cognitive processing," Dr. Gary Kaplan wrote for MindBodyGreen. And while brain fog has many causes, processed foods appear to be one of the main culprits. 

According to Dr. Kaplan, bacon and other processed meats contain sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, and sodium/potassium benzoate to preserve freshness. However, these chemicals are classified "Group 1 Carcinogen" by the World Health Organization — even though the FDA has approved the use of them in regulated amounts. "A large number of health complaints have been reported by consumers [of these chemicals]: among them skin issues, respiratory problems, headaches, dizziness, and brain fog," Dr. Kaplan revealed. 

Eating processed foods puts you at an increased risk for certain types of cancer

Eating only processed foods can cause some seriously life-changing side effects.

A cancer diagnosis can change your life in a matter of moments, so of course people often find themselves searching for new ways to reduce their risk of developing the disease. However, even if you're actively trying to reduce your cancer risk by exercising, using SPF, and not smoking — if you only eat processed foods, you're automatically at an increased risk for certain types of cancer.

In fact, a 2018 study published in the British Medical Journal found a 10 percent increase in processed food consumption was associated with a person's cancer risk being increased by 12 percent (via Harvard Medical School). Additionally, people who eat lots of processed foods saw an 11 percent increased risk for breast cancer. And as Verywell Fit reported, eating even 50 grams of processed or red meat every day has been proven to raise your chances of developing colorectal cancer by a whopping 18 percent. So, before you cook bacon for breakfast, ask yourself if that bacon and scrambled eggs combo is really worth the risk. 

Eating only processed foods could result in a hormonal imbalance

Eating only processed foods could leave you feeling all out of whack, thanks to the havoc they often wreak on your hormone levels.

For many people, hormones — the endocrine system's chemical messengers — are a constant threat to one's complexion, weight, and overall mood. Of course, the majority of people learn just how evil hormones can really be whilst in the throes of puberty. And while you may think you're safe once you're in your 20s, you should never discount hormones' ability to prove you wrong overnight and leave you waking up to a surprise breakout.

As reported in a 2013 study from the British Journal of Nutrition, when you eat a lot of your daily calories from fat or sugar sources, your hormones cease to function properly — subsequently disrupting your body's ability to keep your weight and metabolism in check. And according to hormone and fertility dietician Melissa Groves Azzaro, alcohol and artificial sweeteners are known to negatively impact your hormones, which could possibly make it difficult for many women to experience healthy, successful pregnancies (via Eating Well).