Consuming ultra-processed foods may increase risk of 32 illnesses: Study

A study highlights the side effects of consuming ultra-processed foods on overall health, explaining why it must be avoided.
Frozen pizza is an ultra processed food
Avoid ultra processed foods for your health's sake. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Purvi Kalra Updated: 1 Mar 2024, 05:09 pm IST
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Watch what you eat! Uncontrolled consumption of ultra-processed foods can spike the risk of adverse health conditions, including certain cancers and major heart and lung conditions, according to a latest study published in the British Medical Journal. Ultra-processed foods are products usually made from industrial ingredients and additives, mostly lacking in whole, natural ingredients. They undergo extensive processing like hydrogenation, extrusion, and chemical alteration, to enhance flavour, texture, and shelf life. So while they may always seem tempting, you’ve got to control your temptations to avoid the side effects of ultra processed foods.

Some common examples of ultra-processed foods include sugary snacks, packaged baked goods, fast food, and ready-to-eat meals. These foods are mostly high in refined sugars, unhealthy fats, sodium, and artificial additives while lacking essential nutrients like fibre, vitamins, and minerals, says nutritionist Avni Kaul.

According to the new study, daily consumption of ultra-processed foods has been associated with 32 health issues, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses, highlighting the importance of prioritising whole, minimally processed foods for optimal health.

Ultra-processed foods
Beware of your consumption of ultra-processed foods, for they can lead to chronic health ailments. Image courtesy: Freepik

Ultra-processed foods can lead chronic health conditions

The study published in BMJ analyzed 45 participants. Overall, there was a direct association between exposure to ultra-processed foods and chronic health conditions spanning mortality, cancer, cardiovascular, respiratory, mental, and metabolic health conditions.

The findings of the study indicated that foods that fall under the category of ultra-processed foods may have a detrimental impact on the overall body, highlighting the need to reduce dietary exposure to these products and diving deeper into the mechanisms that link them to poor health.

As per the study, analysis done on the worldwide ultra-processed food sales data and consumption patterns indicated a shift towards increasing incorporation of these foods in regular diet. These foods make up for 58 percent of total energy intake in some high-income countries like Australia and the United States. And their share of consumption has also increased in low and middle-level countries such as Colombia and Mexico with total energy intake ranging from 16 percent to 30 percent.

Overall, the study claims that over the recent decades, the availability and variety of ultra-processed products sold significantly increased in various countries across diverse economic development levels, especially in various low and middle-level nations.

Also read: Eating ultra-processed foods can increase your risk of developing cancer

Side effects of ultra-processed foods

There are multiple side effects of consuming ultra-processed foods in excess.

1. Nutrient deficiency

Ultra-processed foods are mostly stripped of essential nutrients during processing and might lack the vitamins, minerals, and fibre found in whole foods.

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ultra-processed foods
Consuming ultra-processed foods has many downsides, and here are a few!

2. Obesity

These foods tend to be extremely high in calories, unhealthy fats, and added sugars, which could contribute to weight gain and obesity when consumed excessively.

3. Digestive issues

They might contain additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients that could disrupt gut health and lead to digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, and diarrhoea.

4. Increased risk of mental health disorders

Certain research suggests a link between a diet high in ultra-processed foods and an enhanced risk of depression and other mental health issues, says the expert.

5. Addictive properties

The high levels of sugar, salt, and unhealthy fats in ultra-processed foods might trigger addictive behaviours, leading to cravings and overconsumption.

6. Environmental impact

The formatting and packaging of ultra-processed foods mostly contribute to environmental degradation through excessive use of resources, pollution, and waste generation.

Overall, decreasing the intake of ultra-processed foods and going for whole, minimally processed alternatives will help mitigate these negative impacts and promote better health outcomes.

How to reduce consumption of ultra-processed foods?

Becoming conscious about what you eat in your diet is the first step you can take towards reducing your consumption of unhealthy foods. To know more tips to cut down ultra-processed foods, click here!


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About the Author

After testing her skill-set in the field of management and marketing, Purvi Kalra is exploring the world of turning thoughts to words. Her penchant for writing stems for being an avid reader all her life. Her work drives her to be better every day. ...Read More

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