Ultra-processed foods are concoctions of various industrial ingredients (such as emulsifiers, thickeners, and artificial flavors) amalgamated into food products by a series of manufacturing processes. The intense industrial processes used to produce ultra-processed foods destroy the natural structure of the food ingredients and strip away many beneficial nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. WebMD suggests that, when you order your breakfast sandwich, “ask for the propylene glycol (also used in fog machines and to make polyester) on the side”.
Simply reducing your intake of ultra-processed foods may be a challenge. Ultra-processed foods are designed to be hyper-palatable – and together with persuasive marketing, this can make resisting them an enormous challenge for some people.
Ultra-processed foods also include margarine, frosting, sodas (however sweetened), bottled dressings, marinades, and syrups.
Eating ultra-processed foods is linked to high risk of heart (cardiovascular) disease and early death, in part because of all the added sugar. Processed foods cause people to eat more and gain weight. A processed food meal may decrease after-meal energy expenditure by nearly 50% compared with a whole food meal. The reason you can’t stop eating all those sugary, salty snacks: they’re designed to keep you coming back. Processed foods stimulate dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that lights up your brain in similar ways that drugs do. Food companies know this … and they actually engineer their products to have this effect.
Ultra-processed foods are almost always high in acrylamide. From this video by Dr. Mike Hansen: Acrylamide from coffee or french fries or… is absorbed into the liver where it is turned into glycinamide, which is a potent carcinogen as it causes mutations in our DNA. Besides processed food, acrylamide is also formed in meat cooked at high temperatures, and in the coffee roasting process. In humans are recent meta-analysis correlated acrylamide exposure with premanopausal breast and uterine cancer. High levels of acrylamide has been shown to affect reproductive functioning in animals. Birth defects and affect the growth and development of offspring. Studies in humans have shown that it might affect the risk of miscarriage and preterm birth. High levels of acrylamide may damage the liver and kidneys and can cause gastrointestinal symptoms.
Advanced glycation end product (AGEs)
Glycation (the maillard reaction) is the primary driver of ageing in all of our cells. Dr. Hansen continues: Dietary AGEs were once thought to be harmless, but recent research has found that when AGEs are absorbed by the liver (in receptors called rages), it signals the mitochondria to promotes fat storage. It also causes oxidative stress there. Dietary AGEs have been linked to neurological problems like peripheral neuropathy and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Dietary AGEs have been found to increase breast cancer risk by 30%.
Advanced glycation end products (AGEs) accumulation has been shown to promote bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells (BMSCs) senescence leading to senile osteoporosis (SOP) by a mechanism involving reduced SIRT3 expression and inhibition of mitophagy.
A microbiota-dependent mechanism for immuno-pathogenicity of dietary sugar highlights an elaborate interaction between diet, microbiota and intestinal immunity in regulation of metabolic disorders in aging.
These foods are also not labelled as such on food packaging. The best way to identify them is by looking at their ingredients. Typically, things such as emulsifiers, thickeners, protein isolates, and other industrial-sounding products are a sign it’s an ultra-processed food.
Plant-based burgers are ultra-processed food. Synthetic flavorings and “natural flavorings” are bad news, also. Soft drinks, salty and sweet snacks, ice cream, sausage, deep-fried chicken, yogurt, canned tomatoes and baked beans, ketchup, mayonnaise, packaged guacamole and hummus, packaged bread, and flavored cereals are some examples of ultra-processed foods.
Real food is perishable.
Folic acid is added to ultra-processed foods like mass-produced bread and breakfast cereals. High dietary folic acid intake is associated with genomic instability. Folate from plant foods is not a genomic instability problem.
Here is one study including 18,080 people that found that a diet high in fried foods was linked to lower scores in learning and memory.
This cross-sectional study of 886 participants (645 men and 241 women) aged 57–91 y found that those participants with the highest ultra-processed food consumption had almost twice the odds of having short telomeres compared with those with the lowest consumption.
Ultra-processed foods have been linked to a number of different health conditions, including a greater risk of obesity, colorectal cancer, and various chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, and dementia. If 20% of one’s diet is ultraprocessed food, the risk of cognitive decline increases. More than 73% of the U.S. food supply is ultraprocessed. Ultra-processed food → permanent memory loss. Those who consume the highest amounts of ultra-processed foods, such as soft drinks, chips, and cookies, may have a greater chance of developing dementia than those who consume the lowest amount.
This study of 20 weight-stable adults, aged 31.2 ± 1.6 years showed that limiting consumption of ultra-processed foods may be an effective strategy for obesity prevention and treatment.
Fructose consumption outside of fruits is a dementia threat
Dr. Mike Hansen shows why fructose, commonly found in processed foods, causes inflammation in the brain.
This data from the Framingham Offspring Study shows that fructose consumption was associated with a higher risk of all-cause dementia and AD dementia.
Sugar (sucrose), heavily present in many processed foods, is 1/2 fructose.
A possible cause that explains Alzheimer’s disease from initiation to end is diet, which is high in sugar, salt, and glycemic carbs. Our work has shown that all three of these dietary measures can stimulate fructose production in the brain, and our work and that of others have shown that all of the manifestations, from beginning to end, appear to be driven by the fructose produced in the brain. Fructose levels are also high in the brain of patients with early Alzheimer’s disease.
Many studies have found that poor diets can increase inflammation in the body, and that this is linked to higher risk of chronic diseases. Given that signs of inflammation were seen in participants of this Italian study who ate the most ultra-processed foods, this could suggest that inflammation may contribute to why ultra-processed foods increase disease risk.
Professor Robert Lustig explains how ultra-processed foods are a chronic disease threat.
Some researchers have theorized that ultra-processed foods increase inflammation because they are recognized by the body as foreign – much like an invading bacteria. So the body mounts an inflammatory response, which has been dubbed ‘fast food fever’. This increases inflammation throughout the body as a result. Chronic inflammation is strongly linked with an increased risk of colon cancer.
Research shows that other mechanisms – such as impaired kidney function and toxins in packaging – may also explain why ultra-processed foods cause so many dangerous health problems. Two hours after ingestion, tiny particles of polystyrene, a widely used plastic commonly used for food packing, can be detected in the brain. These plastic particles can increase the risk of neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration.
Processed food are more likely to be contaminated with polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs. Many PFASs appear to disrupt hormones and interfere with the immune system.
This study of 22 895 participants showed that adults with the lowest quality diet, as measured using the FSAm-NPS dietary index (underpinning the Nutri-Score), and the highest ultra-processed food consumption (NOVA classification) were at the highest risk for all cause and cardiovascular mortality. A significant proportion of the higher mortality risk associated with an elevated intake of nutrient poor foods was explained by a high degree of food processing. Given that signs of inflammation were seen in participants of this Italian study who ate the most ultra-processed foods, this could suggest that inflammation may contribute to why ultra-processed foods increase disease risk.
From WebMD: Super-starchy and processed foods never make the “healthy” list. But did you know eating the two together can up your chances of having dementia? French researchers found people who developed dementia often paired processed meats – i.e. ham, pepperoni, and deli meats – with high carbs like potatoes, alcohol, and baked sweets. Meanwhile, people who stayed healthy ate their share of meat – but enjoyed it with fruits and veggies.
This study of men (n= 46 341) from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (1986-2014) and women (n=159 907) from the Nurses’ Health Study concluded that high consumption of total ultra-processed foods in men and certain subgroups of ultra-processed foods in men and women was associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Ultra-processed foods are harmful to gut health, cardiovascular health and mental health. Processed food manufacturers target children.
Dr. Mike Hansen: Ultra-processed foods (and smoking) are responsible for most strokes via insulin resistance.