Ultra-Processed Foods and Health

by | Apr 20, 2021 | Nutrition

Ultra-Processed Foods includes such things as sodas, candies, cookies, sweetened breakfast cereals, fish nuggets, packaged instant soups or desserts, baby formula, salty packaged snacks and many other products aggressively marketed to consumers.

Looking for advice on improving your diet? One tip you’ll hear from almost every source is “avoid processed foods.” Some foods are processed more than others, however, and recent research suggests that so-called “ultra-processed” foods are especially unhealthy.

The categorization of food as ultra-processed comes from the work of Brazilian researchers who developed a classification system, called NOVA, with four categories that range from unprocessed or minimally processed to ultra-processed, defined as “formulations of ingredients, mostly of exclusive industrial use, typically created by series of industrial techniques and processes.”

This group includes such things as sodas, candies, cookies, sweetened breakfast cereals, fish nuggets, packaged instant soups or desserts, baby formula, salty packaged snacks and many other products aggressively marketed to consumers. Recently, scientists investigated the effects of eating ultra-processed foods in a group of 20 individuals admitted to a National Institutes of Health clinical center.

Study participants were randomly selected to eat a diet of either unprocessed or ultra-processed foods for two weeks, followed by a two-week period during which they ate the alternate diet. They were told to eat as much or as little of either diet as they liked.

Here’s what they found: “Despite the ultra-processed and unprocessed diets being matched for daily presented calories, sugar, fat, fiber, and macronutrients, people consumed more calories when exposed to the ultra-processed diet as compared to the unprocessed diet. Furthermore, people gained weight on the ultra-processed diet and lost weight on the unprocessed diet.”

Weight gain isn’t the only concern. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, evidence from studies in multiple countries shows that “the displacement of non-ultra-processed by ultra-processed foods increases the risk of obesity and several other diet-related non-communicable diseases, and also premature mortality.”

Fundamentals of Health Alliance

Fundamentals of Health Alliance

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The Fundamentals of Health Alliance works to publish useful and reliable information about nutrition and health. Their mission is to empower readers to be informed with honest, non-biased information about food, nutrition and the vital components of health.

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