New Review Reveals the Harmful Effects of Ultra-processed Foods

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A new comprehensive meta-analysis of health outcomes for those who eat ultra-processed foods (UPF’s) has provided the strongest link yet between consumption and a long list of harmful health effects, making grim reading for fast food fans.

The review, using data from almost 10 million people, assessed the effects of eating UPF’s such as salty snacks, ready meals, instant noodles, some breads, carbonated drinks, breakfast cereals and other variations to determine that there are “direct associations” between these types of foods and a number of negative health outcomes. This is especially worrying since in the United States and the United Kingdom, ultra-processed foods make up more than half of the daily average diet, and that number increases as the person gets younger or the geographical area becomes more financially challenged.

Why is ultra-processed food potentially making us sick?

Unlike whole foods, ultra-processed foods undergo various different industrial and mechanical processes such as chopping and shaping, plus the addition of salt, flavors and other additives. UPF’s also generally contain smaller amounts of fiber and fewer vitamins than ‘real’ foods. making them higher in calories and potentially detrimental to our health.

“Overall, direct associations were found between exposure to ultra-processed foods and 32 health parameters spanning mortality, cancer, and mental, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and metabolic health outcomes,” said the report published in the BMJ concluding; “These findings provide a rationale to develop and evaluate the effectiveness of using population based and public health measures to target and reduce dietary exposure to ultra-processed foods for improved human health.”

The review represents the strongest available evidence to date linking UPF’s with a great incidence of all-cause mortality, but the study acknowledges that further work needs to be done in order to determine whether it is the additives, or the mechanical processing, or a combination of both that present the most harm to health.

How to avoid ultra-processed foods

Opting for unprocessed foods such as fresh lean meat, fruits, vegetables, and natural spices and herbs is the best way to avoid ultra-processed ready meals. When you cook a meal from scratch, you know exactly what goes into your dish, and will likely avoid the fillers, emulsifiers, and unpronounceable chemicals that go into UPF’s.

Check out these tips for avoiding processed meat and choosing healthier options.

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