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.
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.
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 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.
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, cardiovascular disease and dementia. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.