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Junk Food Is Literally Killing Us. Here’s Why. – Forbes

3 minutes, 48 seconds Read

Ultra-processed food is not just killing us, it’s making us sicker, fatter and more miserable.

A British Medical Journal study examined evidence from 2009 to 2023 found that eating more ultra-processed food—ostensibly junk food— leads to a 50% increase in cardiovascular death and a 12% jump in type 2 diabetes. The study also saw anxiety diagnoses increase by 48% and mental health conditions, including depression, by 53%. Less convincing but still highly suggestive evidence linked it to a 21% higher all-cause mortality rate. There were 41% higher risks of poor sleep, 40% more wheezing, and—to no surprise—55% more obesity.

But here’s the silver lining. Studies like this one have found that reducing the amount of ultra-processed food you eat can have substantial health benefits, even in the span of two weeks. Making it a habit can translate to tremendous health benefits long-term.

What Is Ultra-Processed Food?

Gazing at your lunch, you might think, “Is this ultra-processed?” If you’re eating a hamburger with fries and ketchup, the answer is yes. If it’s a tuna sandwich, it depends.

Ultra-processed foods commonly have five or more ingredients or additives: emulsifiers, sweeteners, preservatives or artificial colors. These give the food shelf-stability, make it look appealing, easy to digest and tasty. When unsure if your food is ultra-processed, read its ingredients. If you see a long list of chemicals or non-specific substances (e.g. natural flavors), it’s ultra-processed.

You might see soy lecithin, guar gum, aspartame or stevia. Ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup are a dead giveaway, as are most ingredients ending in -ose. Another tell are health promises promoted on the package, like “low sugar” which is code for fake sugar. Foods labeled “nutritious” like cereals, granola, salad dressings and canned soups are often packed with sugar, preservatives and additives.

So if your tuna sandwich is made with whole-grain bread, canned tuna without preservatives and minimal homemade condiments, it’s not ultra-processed. But if uses white bread with preservatives and added sugar, canned tuna with additives, processed cheese and store-bought mayo high in artificial flavors and preservatives, your tuna sandwich is a murderous, ultra-processed food.

Why Is Ultra-Processed Food So Dangerous?

There is no single theory about why ultra-processed foods as a group are so dangerous. They are not immediately poisonous, like arsenic. Yet many reasons have been proposed. First, our bodies can’t fully process some chemicals, and react in harmful ways, promoting chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation, as opposed to acute inflammation, which occurs when you sprain your ankle, damages healthy cells, organs and tissues. It produces internal scarring and injures healthy cell DNA.

Ultra-processed foods have fewer nutrients. This displaces healthier, nutrient-rich and fiber-rich foods you could be eating. Nutrient-rich foods have beneficial bioactive compounds, like polyphenols in fruits and vegetables. Fiber-rich foods promote healthy digestion and lower cholesterol levels. Ultra-processed food also negatively impacts your gut microbiome, the intestinal bacteria that promote digestion. When you can’t stop bingeing on cookies, that’s your microbiome talking to you, through the so-called gut-brain axis.

There are also harmful substances produced during the manufacturing process of ultra-processed food. This includes acrylamide and advanced glycation end products, which are released from foods during high-temperature cooking. Both are known carcinogens. There are also contaminants in the packaging that can migrate into your food, such as phthalates, microplastics and bisphenols.

A reason for some this effect could be that ultra-processed foods are associated with poor health outcomes, but not always the cause. Studies linking eating habits to outcomes are thorny, scientifically. There are many confounders. For example, it may be that low-income people are more likely to eat ultra-processed food and have other stressors that cause poor health outcomes.

The large, negative effects observed in the BMJ study are likely some combination of all these factors. Given these findings, it’s time to rethink some of your food choices.

Here are a few ideas. Substitute your sugary or diet sodas and energy drinks with sparkling water or unsweetened tea. Look at ingredient labels. Pick foods with fewer ingredients. Avoid foods with ingredients you can’t recognize. Truefood.tech is a free website that helps you select the least processed foods at the grocery store. If you’re looking for a diet, consider adopting a Mediterranean style diet rich in fruit, veggies, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, and wholegrains.

Ultimately, it’s not about dramatically changing the way you eat overnight, but rather nudging yourself to make healthier food choices which can build over time into habits. This will make you feel better and hopefully live longer as you change your eating patterns long-term.

This post was originally published on 3rd party site mentioned in the title of this site

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