In countries like the UK, US and Canada, ultra-processed foods are now responsible 50 percent or more of calories consumed.
This is concerning, given that these foods have been linked to a number of different health conditions, including an increased risk of infection obesity And many chronic diseases such as Cardiovascular disease And the mental illness.
Ultra-processed foods Fabrications of various industrial components (such as emulsifiers, thickeners and artificial flavors) that are incorporated into food products through a series of manufacturing processes.
Sugary drinks and many breakfast cereals are ultra-processed foods, as are more recent innovations, such as so-called “vegan” burgers, which are typically made with protein isolates and other chemicals to make the products palatable.
The intensive industrial processes used to produce ultra-processed foods are destroying natural structure of nutritional components and get rid of many beneficial nutrients such as fiber, vitaminsminerals and phytochemicals.
Many of us are well aware that ultra-processed foods are too Harmful For our health. But it is not clear 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 the health risks. This indicates that other factors may be needed to fully explain its health risks.
The role of inflammation
The The first studywhich looked at more than 20,000 Italian adults, found that participants who ate the most ultra-processed foods had an increased risk of premature death from any cause.
The second studywhich examined more than 50,000 male health professionals in the United States, found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. cancer.
What is most interesting about these studies is that the health risks from a diet rich in ultra-processed foods remained even after they were responsible for the poor nutritional quality of their diets. This indicates that other factors Contribute to the damage caused by ultra-processed foods.
It also means that getting the right nutrients elsewhere in the diet may not be enough to eliminate disease risk from eating ultra-processed foods.
Likewise, the food industry’s attempts to improve the nutritional value of ultra-processed foods by adding a few vitamins may be a side step to a more fundamental problem with these foods.
So what factors might explain why ultra-processed foods are bad for our health?
The Italian study found that markers of inflammation — such as a high white blood cell count — were higher in the groups that ate the most processed foods.
Our bodies may trigger an inflammatory response for any number of reasons – for example, if we catch a cold or are injured. 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).
Our inflammatory response usually resolves very quickly, but some people may develop chronic inflammation throughout the body. This can cause tissue damageis involved in many chronic diseases – such as cancer And the Cardiovascular disease.
Several studies have found that poor diets can increase inflammation in the body, and this is related to this higher risks of chronic diseases.
Given the appearance of inflammatory markers in the Italian study participants who ate the most over-processed foods, this may suggest that inflammation may contribute to an increased risk of over-processed foods.
Some common food additives in ultra-processed foods (such as emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners) also increase inflammation in the gut by causing Changes in the gut microbiome.
Some researchers hypothesize that ultra-processed foods increase inflammation because the body recognizes them as foreign — like invading bacteria. So the body mounts an inflammatory response, which is dubbed ‘fast food fever. This increases inflammation throughout the body as a result.
Although the American Colon Cancer Study did not prove whether inflammation was increased in men who consumed the most over-processed foods, inflammation is closely related to Increased risk of colon cancer.
Since inflammatory responses are solid in our bodies, the best way to prevent this from happening is to not eat ultra-processed foods at all.
Some plant-based diets rich in natural, unprocessed foods (such as Mediterranean dietIt has also been shown to be anti-inflammatory.
This may also explain why vegan diets devoid of ultra-processed foods can help avoid this chronic diseases. It is currently unknown to what extent an anti-inflammatory diet can help counter the effects of ultra-processed foods.
Simply cutting back on ultra-processed foods can be a challenge. Ultra-processed foods are designed to be over-tasting — and with disguised marketing, it can make resisting them a formidable challenge. some people.
These foods are also not labeled on food packaging as such. The best way to Identify them by looking at their components. Usually things like emulsifiers, thickeners, protein isolates, and other industrial-sounding products are a sign that it’s a highly processed food.
But preparing meals from scratch using natural foods is the best way to avoid the harms of ultra-processed foods.