A time traveler transported from a century ago to a mainstream supermarket today would be astonished by the technological marvels of our food industry. Food manufacturing gradually moved from light processing to heavy, industrial processing, creating lots of convenient, flavorful, long-lasting, ready-to-eat products made with peculiar ingredients – hard to pronounce chemical additives, preservatives, colors and flavorings. These heavily processed foods have taken over much of the global food system in the US and in many other countries.
Nowadays, highly processed foods such as soft drinks, French fries, processed meats, cookies, sweetened cereals and salty snacks, make up more than half of the caloric intake of the average American.
And after decades of enchantment with the convenience of getting someone else to do our cooking, for cheap, we woke up to the realization that heavy processing carries a heavy price. We’re paying for this inexpensive food with our heaviness and our health.
Highly processed food has been linked to rising obesity rates and high blood pressure. A recent large study found a 10 percent increase in ultra-processed food was associated with a 10 percent higher risk of overall cancer and breast cancer.
A newly published study in in Public Health Nutrition included about 12,000 Americans with no underlying illness, who were followed for more than 20 years, to see whether a highly processed diet might shorten people’s lives.
30 percent more likely to die
Highly processed foods in this study were defined as: “foods containing substances that are not typically used in culinary preparation such as hydrogenated oils, hydrolysed protein or emulsifiers, and have few whole foods. Ultra-processed foods contain industrial substances to mimic sensorial qualities of whole foods and create foods that are highly palatable.”
Participants ate highly processed foods 4 times a day on average. Those with the highest usage of ultra-processed foods did so more than 5 times a day, and tended to be male and younger. During follow up there were 2451 deaths.
There was a very clear link. Eating more ultra-processed food was associated with a 30 percent higher risk of dying, even after adjusting for demographic, socio-economic and health confounders such as smoking, weight and exercise.
A diet high in ultra-processed foods was found after analysis to be high in added sugar, fat and calories and low in fiber and micronutrients.
Low diet quality…