Processed foods like instant noodles, candies, and sausages are convenient and inexpensive. However, there is increasing scientific evidence that they cause a lot of harm to our health.
According to a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the worst processed foods – so called ultraprocessed foods – are full of preservatives and added sugars that increase the risk. cardiovascular disease and premature death.
A team of researchers from Italy followed 24,325 volunteers, both male and female, aged 35 and over for 10 years. After collecting data on their eating habits and health outcomes, the scientists discovered that participants who ate a diet high in processed foods were at risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. , heart attack or higher stroke.
And the data shows that the more processed foods you eat, the more these health risks increase.
The researchers hypothesized that the main harmful agent in processed foods is added sugar. But neither sugar nor other ingredients like saturated fat completely account for the health risks, meaning we still don’t fully understand why processed foods are so dangerous.
This is not the first time that added sugar, salt, fats and preservatives have been suspected of leading to worse health outcomes.
A 2019 groundbreaking study from the National Institutes of Health found that when they eat the same calories, people who eat processed foods gain weight faster and more than less processed foods.
This finding suggests that processed foods can influence the rate at which the digestive system is absorbed, through interactions with key hormones that are regulating our appetite. Other studies have shown that packaged and processed foods also cause a higher risk of cancer and premature death.
What is processed food?
In the new study, researchers found that processed meat, pizza and pastries were the most popular super-processed foods. But not all processed foods are created equal. After all, a homemade chicken salad sandwich can still qualify as a cooked meal.
So what exactly defines a certain food as processed or unprocessed?
To answer that question, scientists and nutritionists typically use a four-tier system called NOVA, which classifies everything we eat into one of these four categories:
1. Unprocessed or minimally processed food
Unprocessed foods include edible parts of plants (fruits, vegetables, seeds, roots) or animals, as well as fungi and algae. They can be fresh, frozen or even fermented – the key difference is that they haven’t been treated with additives, salt or oiled until they’re about to be eaten. Examples include dried beans, rice, mushrooms, fresh or dried, meat and dairy products, seafood, plain yogurt, nuts and spices.
2. Raw materials for food processing
Raw materials for food processing are ingredients made from unprocessed foods, such as vegetable oils, butter and lard. This category also includes extracted foods, such as honey, cane sugar, and maple syrup.
3. Processed food
Processed foods are items that are laced with ingredients such as sugar, salt and fat to help extend their shelf life. Canned fruit, fermented bread, wine, cheese, pickles and salted nuts are all on this list.
4. Super processed foods and beverages
These are foods that are made to be eaten or reheated and eaten immediately. To do that, these foods are typically factory produced, crushed from whole or fresh form and treated with thickeners, colors, yeasts and additives.
They can be fried before packing in cans or wrapping paper. They may contain high fructose corn syrup, protein isolate or oil (an alternative to trans fats, which is now widely banned).
Examples of super processed foods include packaged granola bars, soft drinks, candies, mass-produced breads, margarine, energy drinks, flavored yogurt, chicken nuggets, and sausages.
These are the things researchers are talking about when they say that super processed foods are linked to more cancer cases, premature death and obesity. Of course, these items also tend to be convenient and cheaper than less processed foods, as they can last longer and spoil less.
Kevin Hall, lead author of the NIH study, told Business Insider: “Super processed foods have a lot of advantages in terms of convenience. It’s cheap. It has a long shelf life. You don’t have to have all the fresh ingredients on hand, which are perishable. You don’t have to have all the tools to prepare these meals from scratch.
Therefore, it is important that you cut back on super processed, processed foods and replace them with less processed, unprocessed or processed foods to keep your health healthy. and prevent disease.