Is your diet highly processed?
Every year, food companies introduce thousands of new highly processed foods with endless flavors and ingredients. These products offer a powerful combination of fat, sugar, sodium and artificial flavors. They’re what scientists call hyper-sticky: irresistible, easy to overeat and capable of hijacking the brain’s reward system and triggering intense cravings.
However, dozens of large studies have found that scientists have found that highly processed foods are associated with increased obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Colon cancer. A recent study above 22,000 people People who ate the most processed foods were 19 percent more likely to die early and 32 percent more likely to die from heart disease.
So how do we break our dependence on highly processed foods? You can start by learning which foods are the most processed in your diet. You don’t necessarily have to give them up. But once you know how to identify highly processed foods, it’s easy to find less processed substitutes.
This is your body on highly processed foods.
The growing focus on highly processed foods reflects a shift in how the scientific and public health community thinks about nutrition. Rather than focusing on nutrients, calories, or types of food, the focus is on what happens to food after it is grown or grown, and on the physical, biological, and chemical processes that occur before we eat it.
Foods can be unprocessed or minimally processed – like whole fruits and vegetables, frozen or frozen meats, dairy products, and eggs we buy. Other foods go through an intermediate process – you can usually identify these foods because they have fewer ingredients on the label. Think freshly made bread and cheese, salty peanut butter, pasta sauce, popcorn, and canned fruits, fish, and vegetables.
Then there are highly processed foods. They are industrial compounds that contain many additional ingredients in their base: salt, sugar and oils combined with artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, stabilizers and preservatives. Typically, they are subjected to a number of processing methods that change their taste, texture, and appearance to something that does not exist in nature. Think Frosted Flakes, Hot Pockets, donuts, hot dogs, cheese crackers and boxed macaroni and cheese.
Studies show that our bodies seem to react differently to highly processed foods.
as if Strictly controlled clinical trial Conducted by the National Institutes of Health, scientists compared what happened when a group ate highly processed foods for two weeks, and on a separate occasion, A diet of mostly made-from-scratch foods.
Both foods contain similar amounts of fat, sugar, sodium, and fiber. And they were all allowed to eat until they were satisfied. But to the researchers’ surprise, people ate far more calories when they ate highly processed foods. On average, they ate about 500 more calories per day – roughly the size of a large order of McDonald’s fries.
Participants on a diet of highly processed foods quickly gained weight and body fat. But on the unprocessed homemade diet, the opposite happened: they lost weight and had a decrease in cholesterol and an increase in appetite-suppressing hormone levels. PYY experienced a decrease in the levels of ghrelin, known as the hunger hormone. It is not clear why unprocessed and highly processed foods made such a difference.
“We can’t explain it yet,” said Kevin Hall, who led the study and is a scientist at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. “We have a dozen or more theories about what highly processed foods are causing these effects.”
Some experts argue that highly processed foods overload our brains and biological systems because they contain an unnatural combination of fats and carbohydrates, along with sodium and other flavoring agents.
Some nutrition scientists point to the texture of highly processed foods: they often contain little or no fiber and are easy to chew and digest, despite their high calorie content. Think about how easy it is to pull off chicken pieces that are quickly eaten Or a moist blueberry muffin topped with sugar, flour, and vegetable oils. When these foods leave the stomach and enter the small intestine, they are absorbed quickly, which causes an increase in blood sugar, insulin and other hormones.
“All the bad things happen from the big stuff that gets into our bloodstream too quickly,” he said. Dariush Mozaffarian, cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.
Many highly processed foods are processed in industrial machines that apply extreme pressure and heat to grains, corn, and other raw materials. This destroys micronutrients and creates new compounds that are harmful, including carcinogens, said Carlos A. Montero, professor of nutrition and public health at the School of Public Health at the University of São Paulo, Brazil.
“These foods contain many chemical compounds that are not nutritious,” he added.
Highly processed foods contain many additional nutrients that we don’t fully understand about our health, says Mozaffarian. “It’s not just salt and sugar that’s obvious, but artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, emulsifiers, stabilizers, guar gum and xanthan gum,” he said. We don’t know if they are harmless.
Finding replacements that don’t work well
The easiest way to cut highly processed foods from your diet is to buy fewer processed and packaged foods and eat more whole and minimally processed foods. Instead of buying sweet fruit yogurts loaded with additives, buy plain yogurt and add berries, nut butters, and honey if you like. Consider skipping the frozen chicken nuggets and making these instead Baked capsules At home, it does not take much more time.
You should also avoid sugary sodas and sports drinks with lots of additives and little or no nutritional value. Replace sparkling water with lemon or lime, unsweetened tea and plain water or water with real fruit.
If you want the convenience of ultra-processed foods, you can check labels and comparison shop. Try to choose the products with the least ingredients. You can pull up a website on your phone to get help while shopping. Truefood.tech. You enter the food you want to buy on the site — like chicken nuggets or breakfast cereal — and in turn the site shows you dozens of brands and recommends the least processed versions. The site uses machine learning to rank foods from 1 to 100 based on how many additives they contain and their level of processing. The lower the score, the better.
The site was created by Julia Menichetti and Albert-László Barabaszy, two scientists at Northeastern University. Study highly processed foods And Prepared a database Over 50,000 foods sold in the grocery store. You may be surprised by the wide variety of different types of macaroni and cheese, or how your favorite organic gluten-free chicken nuggets can turn out better than conventional recipes.
Menichetti says replacing some of the highly processed foods that are staples in your diet with unprocessed or less processed foods can provide health benefits. “We’re not suggesting you drastically change your diet,” she said. “We’re guiding you to a healthy diet.”
Meanwhile, other experts have called for more aggressive public policies, such as stricter food labels and health warnings, to push the food industry to produce healthier products.
“It takes some time for people to change their diet,” Montero said. But if people start eating less processed foods, the food industry will be forced to produce less processed foods.
Have a question about healthy eating? email EatingLab@washpost.com And we will answer your question in the next column.