Sunday, April 14, 2024

Junk foods, like heavily processed snacks, may lead to heart problems, diabetes, mental issues, and early death, according to research. If someone grabs hold of this info, they can dig deeper into it, but chances are low that it will actually happen

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Eating a lot of heavily processed foods can increase the chances of getting sick or even dying from many different health problems. A recent study looked at information from 45 big reviews that included almost 10 million people.

The leader of the study, Wolfgang Marx, who works at the Food & Mood Centre in Australia, explained, “We discovered solid proof that having more of these super-processed foods is connected to more than 70% of the 45 health issues we looked into.”

“People feeling sad or stressed might turn to highly processed foods for comfort,” she explained. “But it’s not clear if eating these foods actually makes you more likely to be depressed — we can’t say for sure.”

Effects on health conditions vary
Scientists discovered strong hints that consuming more highly processed foods could increase the chances of becoming obese by 55%, experiencing sleep problems by 41%, developing type 2 diabetes by 40%, and facing a 20% higher risk of depression.

Yet, when it came to links between processed food and conditions like asthma, digestive health, and factors related to heart and metabolic health (such as high blood fats and low levels of ‘good’ cholesterol), the evidence was either limited or inconclusive, according to the analysis.

Surprisingly, the study found little or no clear evidence connecting processed foods to cancer. This is unexpected, considering Zhang’s previous research on the link between processed foods and cancer.

“Obesity raises the risk of 13 types of cancers. Processed foods contribute to weight gain, and weight gain increases the risk of cancer,” she explained. In a study from August 2022, which she coauthored, Zhang discovered that men who consumed the highest amounts of processed foods had a 29% higher chance of developing colorectal cancer.

One reason why the surprising discovery occurred is that the research on highly processed foods is still in the early stages. Mathilde Touvier, who coauthored the study and is a research director at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, explained that more studies are needed to strengthen the evidence related to cancer and other health aspects. She emphasized the necessity for additional research rather than concluding that there’s nothing to find.

Ultraprocessed foods go beyond simple modifications, according to Dr. Carlos Monteiro, a nutrition researcher from the University of São Paulo. He clarified that these foods are made up of chemically altered inexpensive ingredients like modified starches, sugars, oils, fats, and protein isolates, often lacking whole foods. Monteiro introduced the term “ultraprocessed food” in 2009 when he developed a classification system called NOVA, categorizing foods into four groups based on their level of processing. Group one includes unprocessed or minimally processed foods like fruits and vegetables, group two involves culinary ingredients such as salt and oils, group three comprises processed foods combining groups one and two (examples include canned goods and frozen vegetables), and the fourth group consists of ultraprocessed foods.

Group four includes highly processed foods. According to Monteiro, these foods are made tasty and appealing by using artificial flavors, colors, thickeners, and other additives. There is evidence from experiments and studies that these additives can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut and cause inflammation throughout the body.

Monteiro expressed doubt that humans can fully adapt to these products. He believes that the body might see them as useless or harmful, leading to potential damage or impairment of its systems. This depends on the vulnerability of the individual and the amount of highly processed food consumed.

Since Monteiro introduced the term “ultraprocessed food,” experts in nutrition, researchers, and public health officials have become worried about the growing popularity of these foods. This concern extends to countries like the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and many developing nations.

“Most of the calories kids eat in the US come from highly processed foods, and it’s the same for many adults, too,” explained Zhang.

“It’s a bit like how cars were invented. They’re handy, but if we rely on them too much without staying active, we run into problems. We need to find new ways to cut down on eating too much processed food for a healthier life.”

How to eat less processed food? Here’s a simple solution: buy real food and cook it yourself. But, in today’s busy world, giving up quick and easy meals is tough. Plus, it’s hard to resist as more than 70% of the food in the US is highly processed.

To fix this, public health groups and governments might need to step in, suggests Monteiro. They could use warning labels on the front of packages, limit ads, especially to kids, and stop selling processed foods near schools and hospitals. At the same time, they should make healthier foods more affordable.

While we wait for that, Marx and Lane give some advice:

1) Look at labels and choose less processed options. For example, pick plain yogurt with fruit instead of flavored ones.

2) Think about what you can add to your diet, like fresh fruits, veggies, beans, and legumes, instead of just cutting things out.

3) Be careful with drinks. Sugary ones don’t give you anything good. Drink water instead.

4) When you eat out, choose local restaurants over fast food. Local places are less likely to serve highly processed foods.

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