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The Hidden Dangers of Ultra-Processed Foods on our Health

In today’s fast-paced world, it is unfortunate that convenience often comes at the expense of our wellbeing. 


Ultra-processed foods (UPF’s), with their enticing packaging and instant gratification have seeped into our diets and reshaped our eating habits, cravings, desires and overall perception of food. Yet beneath their convenience lies a disconcerting reality - a multitude of hidden dangers for your health. 


The detrimental effects of consuming ultra-processed foods regularly are being seen in our declining health and inability to change due to their addictive nature.


Ultra-processed foods are products that undergo extensive industrial processing, often resulting in high levels of added sugars, unhealthy fats and oils, and synthetic additives. Think of sugary cereals, packaged snacks, fast-food meals, and sugary drinks – these are the culprits that have invaded our diets.


 

So how exactly do ultra-processed foods impact our health?


ultra processed foods and healthy foods

Ultra-processed foods have been associated with various negative impacts on health due to their composition, processing methods, and nutritional quality. Here are several ways in which these foods can affect our health:


  • Weight gain and obesity:

The high caloric density, low satiety, and the palatability of ultra-processed foods can contribute to overeating and weight gain. Studies have shown a correlation between the consumption of these foods and an increased risk of obesity. Excessive calorie intake, coupled with the low nutritional value of these foods, can have detrimental effects on overall health.


  • Cardiovascular health:


Many ultra-processed foods contain high levels of trans fats, saturated fats, and sodium, all of which are detrimental to cardiovascular health. Diets rich in these components can lead to elevated levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), increased blood pressure, and an overall higher risk of heart disease, as found in a study in the journal BMJ Open Heart which demonstrated that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases. These foods tend to be high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and sodium, which are linked to heart health issues.


  • Metabolic syndrome and diabetes:


Regular consumption of ultra-processed foods has been linked to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome. This cluster of conditions includes obesity, high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, and abnormal cholesterol levels. Together, these factors raise the risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.


  • Inflammation:


The additives, preservatives, and other artificial substances present in many ultra-processed foods can contribute to chronic inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to various diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers. A study published in the British Medical Journal found that an increased consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of overall cancer and breast cancer specifically.


  • Digestive health disruptions:


Ultra-processed foods often lack fibre, a crucial component for digestive health. Insufficient fibre intake can contribute to constipation, diverticulitis, and other gastrointestinal issues. A diet dominated by these foods may not provide the necessary support for a healthy digestive system.


  • Nutrient deficiency and imbalance:


Ultra-processed foods are often high in calories but low in essential nutrients as demonstrated in the journal Nutrients. They tend to be rich in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and salt, while lacking important vitamins, minerals, and fibre.


 

Ways to eat less processed foods 


ultra processed foods magazine

It's clear that the allure of convenience comes at a steep price. However, breaking free from the clutches of ultra-processed foods is entirely possible, especially with the help of a Health Coach by your side:


  • Prioritise real foods: Opt for whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. These foods provide a wealth of nutrients and nourishment. A Health Coach can help you with resources for recipes and snack ideas to help you transition.


  • Label reading: (And we don’t just mean the front which is often not representative of what is actually in the food). Educate yourself about ingredient lists and nutritional labels. Be wary of products with lengthy, unpronounceable ingredients, excessive added sugars, and unhealthy fats.


  • Cook at home: Preparing meals at home empowers you to control the ingredients and cooking methods, ensuring that your food is as nourishing as possible. Cooking from scratch need not be a chore. Look for times during the week that you can batch cook’ and freeze for convenience. If you have children at home, get them involved too. This is a great way to start educating them and have fun.


As scientific studies continue to unveil the perils of ultra-processed foods, and our health is declining, it's clear that our dietary choices play a pivotal role in our well-being. By making informed choices and prioritising whole, nutrient-dense foods, you're taking a significant step towards safeguarding your health and embracing a life of vitality.


 

Sources:


Hall KD, Ayuketah A, Brychta R, Cai H, et al. Ultra-Processed Diets Cause Excess Calorie Intake and Weight Gain: An Inpatient Randomized Controlled Trial of Ad Libitum Food Intake. Cell Metab. 2019 Jul 2;30(1):67-77.e3. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2019.05.008. Epub 2019 May 16. Erratum in: Cell Metab. 2019 Jul 2;30(1):226. Erratum in: Cell Metab. 2020 Oct 6;32(4):690. PMID: 31105044; PMCID: PMC7946062.


Srour B, Fezeu L K, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B, Méjean C, Andrianasolo R M et al. Ultra-processed food intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: prospective cohort study (NutriNet-Santé) BMJ 2019; 365 :l1451 doi:10.1136/bmj.l1451


Srour B, Fezeu LK, Kesse-Guyot E, et al. Ultraprocessed Food Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Among Participants of the NutriNet-Santé Prospective Cohort. JAMA Intern Med. 2020 Feb 1;180(2):283-291. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.5942. PMID: 31841598; PMCID: PMC6990737.


Fiolet T, Srour B, Sellem L, Kesse-Guyot E, Allès B, Méjean C et al. Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort BMJ 2018; 360 :k322 doi:10.1136/bmj.k322

Cuevas-Sierra A, Milagro FI, Aranaz P, Martínez JA, Riezu-Boj JI. Gut Microbiota Differences According to Ultra-Processed Food Consumption in a Spanish Population. Nutrients. 2021 Aug 6;13(8):2710. doi: 10.3390/nu13082710. PMID: 34444870; PMCID: PMC8398738.




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