It’s Not Just That Ultra-processed Foods Have Low Nutritional Value That’s A Concern

danger of processed foods 9 13
 Many everyday food products are ultra-processed. Jiri Hera/ Shutterstock

In countries such as the UK, US and Canada, ultra-processed foods now account for 50% or more of calories consumed. This is concerning, given that these foods have been linked to a number of different health conditions, including a greater risk of obesity and various chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and dementia.

Ultra-processed foods are concoctions of various industrial ingredients (such as emulsifiers, thickeners and artificial flavours), amalgamated into food products by a series of manufacturing processes.

Sugary drinks and many breakfast cereals are ultra-processed foods, as are more recent innovations, such as so-called “plant-based” burgers, which are typically made of protein isolates and other chemicals to make the products palatable.

The intense industrial processes used to produced ultra-processed foods destroy the natural structure of the food ingredients and strip away many beneficial nutrients such as fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals.

Many of us are well aware that ultra-processed foods are harmful for our health. But it’s been unclear if this is simply because these foods are of poor nutritional value. Now, two new studies have shown that poor nutrition may not be enough to explain their health risks. This suggests that other factors may be needed to fully explain their health risks.

The role of inflammation

The first study, which looked at over 20,000 health Italian adults, found that participants who consumed the highest number of ultra-processed foods had an increased risk of dying prematurely from any cause. The second study, which looked at over 50,000 US male health professionals, found high consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a greater risk of colon cancer.

What’s most interesting about these studies is that the health risks from eating a diet high in ultra-processed foods remained even after they had accounted for the poor nutritional quality of their diets. This suggests that other factors contribute to the harms caused by ultra-processed foods.

It also implies that getting the right nutrients elsewhere in the diet may not be enough to cancel out the risk of disease from consuming ultra-processed foods. Similarly, attempts by the food industry to improve the nutritional value of ultra-processed foods by adding a few more vitamins may be side-stepping a more fundamental problem with these foods.

So what factors may explain why ultra-processed foods are so harmful to our health?


 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

The Italian study found that inflammatory markers – such as a higher white blood cell count – were higher in groups that ate the most ultra-processed foods. Our bodies may trigger an inflammatory response for any number of reasons – for example, if we catch a cold or get cut. The body responds by sending signals to our immune cells (such as white blood cells) to attack any invading pathogens (such as bacteria or viruses).

Usually, our inflammatory response resolves quite quickly, but some people may develop chronic inflammation throughout their body. This can cause tissue damage, and is involved in many chronic diseases – such as cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Many studies have found that poor diets can increase inflammation in the body, and that this is linked to higher risk of chronic diseases. Given that signs of inflammation were seen in participants of the Italian study who ate the most ultra-processed foods, this could suggest that inflammation may contribute to why ultra-processed foods increase disease risk. Some food additives common in ultra-processed foods (such as emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners) also increase inflammation in the gut by causing changes to the gut microbiome.

Some researchers have theorised that ultra-processed foods increase inflammation because they are recognised by the body as foreign – much like an invading bacteria. So the body mounts an inflammatory response, which has been dubbed “fast food fever”. This increases inflammation throughout the body as a result.

Although the US colon cancer study did not establish if inflammation increased in the men consuming the most ultra-processed foods, inflammation is strongly linked with an increased risk of colon cancer.

Research shows that other mechanisms – such as impaired kidney function and toxins in packaging – may also explain why ultra-processed foods cause so many dangerous health problems.

Since inflammatory responses are hard-wired in our bodies, the best way to prevent this from happening is by not eating ultra-processed foods at all. Some plant-based diets high in natural, unprocessed foods (such as the Mediterranean diet) have also been shown to be anti-inflammatory. This may also explain why plant-based diets free from ultra-processed foods can help ward off chronic diseases. It’s currently not known to what extent an anti-inflammatory diet can help counteract the effects of ultra-processed foods.

Simply reducing your intake of ultra-processed foods may be a challenge. Ultra-processed foods are designed to be hyper-palatable – and together with persuasive marketing, this can make resisting them an enormous challenge for some people.

These foods are also not labelled as such on food packaging. The best way to identify them is by looking at their ingredients. Typically, things such as emulsifiers, thickeners, protein isolates and other industrial-sounding products are a sign it’s an ultra-processed food. But making meals from scratch using natural foods is the best way to avoid the harms of ultra-processed foods.The Conversation

About The Author

Richard Hoffman, Associate lecturer, Nutritional Biochemistry, University of Hertfordshire

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Recommended Books:

The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart, and Sharp Mind -- by Peter Wayne.

The Harvard Medical School Guide to Tai Chi: 12 Weeks to a Healthy Body, Strong Heart, and Sharp Mind -- by Peter Wayne.Cutting-edge research from Harvard Medical School supports the long-standing claims that Tai Chi has a beneficial impact on the health of the heart, bones, nerves and muscles, immune system, and the mind. Dr. Peter M. Wayne, a longtime Tai Chi teacher and a researcher at Harvard Medical School, developed and tested protocols similar to the simplified program he includes in this book, which is suited to people of all ages, and can be done in just a few minutes a day.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.


Browsing Nature's Aisles: A Year of Foraging for Wild Food in the Suburbs
by Wendy and Eric Brown.

Browsing Nature's Aisles: A Year of Foraging for Wild Food in the Suburbs by Wendy and Eric Brown.As part of their commitment to self-reliance and resiliency, Wendy and Eric Brown decided to spend a year incorporating wild foods as a regular part of their diet. With information on collecting, preparing, and preserving easily identifiable wild edibles found in most suburban landscapes, this unique and inspiring guide is a must-read for anyone who wants to enhance their family's food security by availing themselves of the cornucopia on their doorstep.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.


Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About It -- edited by Karl Weber.

Food Inc.: A Participant Guide: How Industrial Food is Making Us Sicker, Fatter, and Poorer-And What You Can Do About ItWhere has my food come from, and who has processed it? What are the giant agribusinesses and what stake do they have in maintaining the status quo of food production and consumption? How can I feed my family healthy foods affordably? Expanding on the film’s themes, the book Food, Inc. will answer those questions through a series of challenging essays by leading experts and thinkers. This book will encourage those inspired by the film to learn more about the issues, and act to change the world.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book on Amazon.


More Articles By This Author

You May Also Like

follow InnerSelf on

facebook icontwitter iconyoutube iconinstagram iconpintrest iconrss icon

 Get The Latest By Email

Weekly Magazine Daily Inspiration

AVAILABLE LANGUAGES

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeeliwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptroruesswsvthtrukurvi

MOST READ

spreading disease at home 11 26
Why Our Homes Became COVID Hotspots
by Becky Tunstall
While staying home protected many of us from catching COVID at work, at school, at the shops or…
christmas traditions explained 11 30
How Christmas Became an American Holiday Tradition
by Thomas Adam
Each season, the celebration of Christmas has religious leaders and conservatives publicly…
a man and woman in a kayak
Being in the Flow of Your Soul Mission and Life Purpose
by Kathryn Hudson
When our choices distance us from our soul mission, something inside us suffers. There is no logic…
essential oil and flowers
Using Essential Oils and Optimizing Our Body-Mind-Spirit
by Heather Dawn Godfrey, PGCE, BSc
Essential oils have a multitude of uses, from ethereal and cosmetic to psycho-emotional and…
grieving for pet 11 26
How to Help Grieve the Loss of a Beloved Family Pet
by Melissa Starling
It’s been three weeks since my partner and I lost our beloved 14.5-year-old dog, Kivi Tarro. It’s…
two climbers, with one giving the other a helping hand
Why Doing Good Deeds Is Good For You
by Michael Glauser
What happens to the doers of good deeds? Numerous studies confirm that those who regularly engage…
How Culture Informs The Emotions You Feel To Music
How Culture Informs The Emotions You Feel To Music
by George Athanasopoulos and Imre Lahdelma
I have conducted research in locations like Papua New Guinea, Japan and Greece. The truth is…
how to kow if something true 11 30
3 Questions to Ask Whether Something Is True
by Bob Britten
Truth can be tricky to determine. Every message you read, see or hear comes from somewhere and was…

New Attitudes - New Possibilities

InnerSelf.comClimateImpactNews.com | InnerPower.net
MightyNatural.com | WholisticPolitics.com | InnerSelf Market
Copyright ©1985 - 2021 InnerSelf Publications. All Rights Reserved.