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What's so bad about processed foods? Scientists offer clues



NEW YORK (AP) – Chips, soda and frozen pizzas tend to be full of salt, sugar and fat, but now scientists are trying to understand if there is something else about such processed foods that might be bad for us. ] Already, the spread of cheap, packaged foods has been linked to rising obesity rates around the world.

While three recent studies offer more clues on how our increasingly industrialized food supply may be affecting our health, they also underscore how difficult nutrition science and advice can be. Here's what they say

WHAT DOES PROCESSED MEAN

Whether it's curing, freezing, milling or pasteurization, almost all foods undergo some sort of processing. Even though processing itself does not automatically make food unhealthy, "processed foods" is generally a negative term.

To more accurately identify the processed foods of most concern, scientists came up with a system that groups foods into four categories. It is far from perfect, but the system says highly processed foods are made of mostly industrialized ingredients and additives, with little to no intact whole foods.

Sodas, packaged cookies, instant noodles and chicken nuggets are examples of highly processed foods.

WHAT'S WRONG WITH PROCESSED FOODS

Cheap packaged foods are everywhere including checkout lines, gas stations and vending machines, and a very The researchers have found that the average daily weight of the four-week clinical trial is about the same amount of food. people were fed minimally processed foods.

The 20 participants were allowed to eat as much or as little as they wanted, and were checked into a clinic so their health and behavior could be

In another study based on questionnaires, researchers in France found people who ate more processed foods were more likely to have heart disease. A similar study in Spain found eating more processed foods was linked to a higher risk of death in general

WHAT IS IT ABOUT PROCESSED FOODS

Beyond the fact they taste really good, there might be other reasons why it's so hard

When fed minimally processed foods, people in the clinical trial produced more of a hormone that suppresses appetite, and less of a hormone that causes hunger. The reason for the biological reaction is not clear.

"Those foods tend to be softer and easier to chew and swallow," said Kevin Hall, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health who led the study. source of nutrients might make a difference. Fyers from whole fruits and vegetables, for example, may be better for making people feel full than the types of fiber added to packaged foods such as cookies, yoghurt and even soda

For French study, author Mathilde Touvier also noted the largely unexamined effects of the "cocktail" of additives used to make the various processed foods we eat

All three studies come with big caveats. The U.S. the study was tiny and individual behavior varied widely: Some have ate about the same amount of calories on both diets, and others ate far more on the processed diet.

Meals in the two diets were rated as similarly enjoyable, but Hall noted it's possible participants were saying what they thought they should. The processed food diet included foods such as salted nuts and whole milk, compared to unsalted nuts and low-fat milk for the unprocessed diet.

With French and Spanish studies, there could be other habits and environmental factors that explain the differences in health risks. The studies also did not reflect the broader population. In the Spanish study, participants were college graduates and relatively younger. And although the processed food was tied to a higher risk of death, the total number of deaths was still relatively small

WHAT WOULD YOU EATE

Even without the latest studies, people. Minimally processed foods tend to be richer in nutrients and more difficult to conserve, since they are not as widely available and convenient

Still, following that advice can be hard, especially if for people with limited time and money to spend on

"What frustrates me when the message is" Change the way you eat, "without thinking about why people eat the way they eat," said Sarah Bowen, a professor of food and inequality at North Carolina State University.

Another challenge is the broad spectrum of processed foods, distinguishing which ones may be better or worse as companies continuously re-engineer products to make them seem more wholesome.

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The Associated Press of the Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education.

The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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