Consumer reports have no financial relations with any advertiser on this site. Recent studies have linked diets that include many foods considered 'processed' – such as soft drinks, instant soups and chicken nuggets – at increased risk of obesity, high blood pressure, irritable bowel syndrome and even cancer. Two studies published in the BMJ this spring also found a link between high consumption of these foods and the risk of both cardiovascular disease and early death.
Both studies are observational, meaning that they cannot directly prove cause and effect. But there is growing evidence that ultra-processed foods can be detrimental to your health, says Mark Lawrence, a professor of public nutrition at Deakin University in Australia, who wrote an editorial accompanying both studies.
What Research Finds
For both studies, researchers use a food classification system developed by Brazilian scientists called NOVA. This system breaks down foods into four categories:
● unprocessed foods as fruits; vegetables; legumes; milk; eggs; meat; domestic birds; Seafood; fermented milk, such as yogurt; whole grains; juice; coffee; and water.
● Processed cooking ingredients such as salt, sugar, honey, vegetable oils, butter and lard.
● Processed foods, such as condensed milk, cheeses, dried ham, canned fruits, bread, beer, and
● Ultra processed foods ̵
In the first study, researchers had more than 105,000 middle-aged French adults completing six daily dietary questionnaires. They found that for every 10 percent of a respondent's diet made up of ultra processed foods, there was a little over 10 percent increase in the rates of heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and cerebrovascular disease such as stroke. The more processed or minimally processed foods eaten, the less their risk.
In the second study, researchers had nearly 20,000 university graduates from a Spanish university filling out a 136-item diet questionnaire. They found that those who consumed more than four servings of ultra processed foods per day had a 62 percent greater risk of death during the study period than those who consumed less than two servings per day. Each serving of ultra-processed food increases the risk of dying by 18 percent.
Researchers do not know exactly why ultra-processed foods can cause health problems.
"They are often high in saturated fat, calories, sugar and salt and low in key nutrients such as fiber," says Matilde Touvier, a nutrition epidemiologist at the Paris Center for Epidemiology and Statistics in Sorbonne et al. of the French study. "But we also believe that this is due to the wide range of chemicals and additives present in these foods, ranging from the acrylamide cancer-causing chemical created by heating processed foods to the bisphenol A contained in the product packaging. "
But trying to eliminate which ingredients are harmful is pointless, Lawrence says. "Instead of trying to reformulate these packaged foods to make them safer, we must focus our efforts on ensuring that unprocessed or minimally processed foods are accessible and affordable."
Another problem with ultra-processed foods is, that people tend to overeat. and thus they gain weight. A recent study published in the journal Cell Metabolism found that subjects who eat an ultra-processed diet eat about 500 calories more per day than those whose diet is rich in high-grade foods.
"These foods are often filled with added sugars, salt, refined carbohydrates and fats," says David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Derby, Conn. The study itself found that people who eat ultra-processed foods tend to eat them faster and that they have lower levels of appetite-suppressing hormones than those who ate whole foods. As a result, they may have eaten more to feel satisfied. "
How to Eat Whole Whole Foods
About 60 percent of Americans' total daily calories come from processed foods, study researchers say, so there's no room for improvement." You don't have to completely exclude them from your diet "It seems like the health risks start to cut out after you start eating more than two servings a day," says Lawrence. "Like everything else in life, it's about moderation."
Here are five easy ways
● Read lists carefully they have ingredients. The shorter, the better. Avoid anything that contains hydrogenated oils, artificial fragrances, or strange-sounding substances that you do not admit the manufacturer says are put there to keep it fresh. "All the ingredients should look like something you could do in your own kitchen," says Katz. That's true, even if it's a seemingly healthy product like an energy bar, protein shake or even a plant-based milk drink. They all received a health aura, though they may be ultra-processed foods, says Julie Stefansky, a nutrition specialist in Morrisville, N.C., and a spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
● Do it yourself. It may be easier than you think to cache your own basic elements. "It takes less than a minute to mix salad dressing together with ingredients you have on hand, like olive oil, balsamic vinegar and herbs and spices," says Stefanski. Instead of spending money on a pre-made protein shake, create your own with low-fat milk, frozen fruit and a tablespoon of natural kernel oil. Instead of fruit-flavored yogurt, choose the ordinary variety and sweeten it with fruit.
● Shop smart. When you hit the supermarket, focus on the perimeter. This is where most of the unprocessed tariff is located – think about products, legumes, nuts, dairy, meat and fish. Do not shy away from preserved or frozen fruits, vegetables, broth or meat. Although these are considered "processed" foods, they were not associated with an increased risk of death or illness, Lawrence says.
● Skip creams and sweeteners in coffee or tea. Most powdered and flavored liquid creams are simply dried fructose-high corn syrup, Stefanski says. Pour your drink instead of spraying milk.
● Schedule breakfasts in advance. Most of the time we reach for processed foods because it is convenient. Bring snacks such as a home run or walnut fruit so you can carry on when hunger strikes instead of attacking the machine.