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Ultraprocessed Foods And Risk Of Mortality
Sneha Kishore

Ultraprocessed Foods And Risk Of Mortality

What are ultraprocessed foods? Yes they can look obvious like the above picture, but they can also be in disguise of a healthy granola bar, protein bar, protein powder. They are generally energy dense, rich in refined carbohydrates, saturated fats, salt and contain low to no dietary fiber. Ultraprocessed foods are associated with a higher risk of high cholesterol, obesity, hypertension, and cancer.

Findings of a large prospective French Cohort study suggest that an increased proportion of ultraprocessed food in the diet is associated with a higher risk of overall mortality.

Several factors may account for these associations.

  1. High salt content: higher salt (sodium) foods are associated with cardiovascular deaths and increased stomach cancer risk.
  2. Excessive sugar: linked to cardiovascular risk, diabetes, obesity.
  3. Carcinogenicity of exposure to neoformed contaminants in processed foods that have undergone high temperature processing.

The European Food Safety Authority and international Agency for Research on cancer classified acrylamide as a “probable carcinogen to humans” (Group 2A). Acrylamide is a chemical widely used during the manufacturing of paper, dye, and other industrial products. It can also be formed when certain foods are cooked at high temperatures. Frying, baking, or roasting certain foods, such as potatoes or grains, can create acrylamide. Some studies have also reported modest association between dietary acrylamide and renal and endometrial cancer risk.

Meat processing can also produce carcinogens. The International Agency for Research on cancer in 2015 reported that processed meat consumption was carcinogenic to humans (Group 1), with sufficient evidence for colorectal cancer.

Frequent use of additives in ultraprocessed foods are also concerning. For example, titanium dioxide in which daily intake may be associated with increased risk of intestinal inflammations and carcinogenesis.

Experimental data suggests that emulsifiers could alter the composition of the gut microbiota, therefore promoting low grade inflammation in the intestine and enhancing cancer induction and metabolic syndrome.

Findings suggest that artificial sweeteners could also alter the gut microbiota and linked with onset of type 2 diabetes and metabolic disease.

Food packaging is also suspected to have endocrine disrupting properties. For example, bisphenol A. Data suggest that endocrine disrupters are associated with an increased risk of endocrine cancers, metabolic disease and obesity.

Not all is gloom and doom. What can we do to protect ourselves from these dangers? Eating whole, unprocessed, plant rich foods can help us avoid the harmful effects of ultraprocessed foods.

“Well it doesn’t taste good!” you might say. The body is incredibly adaptable. This includes our sense of taste. When our body is used to ultraprocessed foods for many years of course real food will taste different. Give yourself a few weeks and you won’t want to look back. Your taste buds will crave sweet juicy berries bursting with flavor, or a warm bowl of soup filled with veggies and lentils, and maybe even an oversized salad! At the end of the day what is food supposed to do? Nourish us, not harm us and make us sick.


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