Why ultra-processed foods are so bad for you

mMost people realize that a nutritious diet promotes a healthy lifeBut finding a wide selection at your grocery store isn’t always easy—especially when so many foods are advertised as healthy (but not).

A growing number of recent studies have raised health concerns about certain foods most Americans eat: super processed foods. such one researchPublished in November 2022 in the magazine American magazine prevent Medicine, concluded that these foods likely contributed to about 10% of deaths among 30- to 69-year-olds in Brazil in 2019. Other studies—including one published year neurology in July 2022 found that a 10% increase in consuming ultra-processed foods increased risk of dementia—linked foods with serious health outcomes.

Unlike minimally processed or unprocessed foods—like eggs, shipped from the farm to your kitchen that look pretty much the same—ultra-processed foods have been replaced by manufacturers. change completely. By the time they show up on your grocery shelf, they’re probably already heated, pressed, and enhanced by additives designed to make them last longer, taste better and look more appealing, often harmful to your health. Here’s what you need to know about ultra-processed foods.

What are ultra-processed foods?

The authors of a 2017 study write: Ultra-processed foods are “made mainly or entirely of food-derived substances and additives.” comment published in a magazine Nutrition Public Health. These additives are ingredients that are not normally used in home cooking, such as preservatives, dyes, and sugar-free sweeteners.

This definition includes a wide variety of foods in your local grocery store—from instant soups to packaged snacks to certain meat products, including hot dogs, burgers, and hot dogs. Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and author of the book says: Food for Life: The New Science of Healthy Eating. Typically, they have a very long shelf life and have 10 or more ingredients, he says, often including “products that you can’t find in your kitchen or that you can’t understand”.

They are different from the way some nutritionists do define processed or minimally processed foods. These foods tend to contain only two or three ingredients—usually whole foods with salt, oil, or sugar—and are often preserved, cooked, or fermented. Some of these foods include canned fish, fruit in syrup, cheese, and fresh bread.

But not all ultra-processed foods are equally unhealthy. Fang Fang Zhang, chair of the division of nutritional epidemiology and data science at Tufts University, notes that whole grains, ultra-processed foods — like some packaged breads — are good sources. Fiber is important for many people. “Even with ultra-processed foods… whole grains are still a better choice than refined grains,” says Zhang.

Researchers at Northeastern University have also created a tool to compare packaged foods of the same type to choose the one with the least amount of processing. For example, in the yogurt category, one pure organic yoghurt scored 4/100 (the vantage point indicates low handling), while Yoplait’s Oui Petite received a maximum handle score of 100.

Why are ultra-processed foods so harmful?

Longitudinal studies in the Americas and Europe have linked high intake of ultra-processed foods to a number of health risks, including get a raise In fat, High Blood Pressure, type 2 diabetesand even lost memory. Other studies, including a pair of studies in BMJ by researchers in Spain and Francehave linked the consumption of ultra-processed foods with an increased risk of early death.

Processed foods tend to be junk food, Zhang said: low in fiber, high in sugar and calories. But because ultra-processed foods are identified by the type of ingredient they contain and not by nutritional content, this category can also include foods with beneficial nutrients, like high-fiber bread. .

Scientists who study ultra-processed foods say there seems to be something about the processing itself—not just the nutritional content—that makes them unhealthy. In a year 2019 research To support this idea, the researchers divided 20 people into two groups and controlled for what they ate for two weeks. Each group ate meals with identical amounts of calories, sugar, fat, fiber, and micronutrients, but one group ate ultra-processed foods, while the other group ate unprocessed foods. In the end, those who ate ultra-processed foods gained weight, while those who ate unprocessed foods lost weight.

Researchers have come up with several theories to explain this. One, said Eduardo AF Nilson, a researcher at the Center for Epidemiological Research in Nutrition and Public Health at the University of São Paulo and co-author of the Brazilian study. research, is that eating ultra-processed foods will change the way people eat in general: replacing homemade foods with ready-to-eat, energy-rich foods that are easier to overeat. “They are made, by design, for overconsumption,” says Nilson. “They have the ability to be super appetizing. We say they’re ‘super flavorful’—they’ll be sweet, very salty…and because they’re ready to eat, they’ll replace traditional diets.”

Another opinion, Spector says, is that ultra-processed foods encourage people eat too fast. Spector and other scientists are also investigating whether problems start after ultra-processed foods reach your gut. Spector says that in his research, he has found that certain chemicals in ultra-processed foods—especially emulsifiers, which are added to foods to help mix substances—disrupt sugar bacteria. gut, which scientists think sends signals to the brain when you eat. enough to eat. “Either it sends a signal to the brain or to the gut bacteria to ask to eat more, or the food is simply so easy to eat that it enters the system so quickly that you don’t have time to get the signal. satiety in the body. brain,” Spector said.

Not everyone agrees that all ultra-processed foods are dangerous

Critics, including Gibney, argue that the category of processed foods is too broad to be a useful scientific concept. In Gibney’s view, the ultra-processed food category combines too many different foods and eliminates too many ingredients — including food additives, like preservatives, that public health authorities plus is safe. He argued that these problems undermining nutrition researchbecause it is difficult to standardize which foods are included in the study.

Another problem, says Gibney, is that the concept of ultra-processed foods undercuts the importance of refining a food recipe, such as making it whole grain or lower in sugar, which is something He credits it with helping to make processed foods healthier. He added, for many people, it’s impractical to eliminate processed foods, as it takes up so much of their diet and they don’t have the time or money to cook every meal. . “Ultraprocessed foods as a concept are providing a simple, universal answer to a very complex question,” says Gibney.

How to cut down on ultra-processed foods?

Experts agree that reducing consumption of ultra-processed foods is not the sole responsibility of the public. Nilson said many people who don’t live in communities have access to healthy, less processed foods, which are often more expensive than ultra-processed foods. To reduce ultra-processed foods, Nilson argues that governments will need to implement policies to expand access to healthy foods, such as by limiting the availability of processed foods in the United States. schools.

Another important policy, Nilson said, is for the government to warn the public about the dangers of ultra-processed foods and to implement clear labeling. Some countries have begun to warn the public about ultra-processed foods. For example, in 2022, Canada announced new labeling requirements for prepackaged foods, including label when those products are high in sodium, sugar or saturated fat and Health Canada has combined warning about highly processed foods into his online healthy food selection guide.

If you want to follow a healthier diet, Spector says changing your mindset is key. “We just need to get people thinking about food not in terms of calories but in terms of quality,” he said. If you want to reduce the amount of ultra-processed foods you eat, Spector recommends choosing other foods Cheap and doesn’t take much time to prepare, like beans, lentils, and eggs. For snacks, he suggests nuts seeds, and whole fruit. “Try turning it off [ultra-processed food] in a week,” he said, “and see what happens.”

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