Consumption of ultra-processed foods and health risks

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According to the article Ultra-processed foods – like cookies, chips, frozen meals and fast food – may contribute to cognitive decline published on University of Florida's Center for Aging and Memory website, the consumption of ultra-processed/processed/junk food may cause brain impairment/cognitive decline.

According to the Canadian Society of Intestinal Research:

Ultra-Processed Foods: The term comes from the NOVA food classification system, a system created to classify foods based on how they are processed and for what purpose (extending shelf life, fortifying with vitamins and minerals, creating ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat foods, etc.). They classify food into four groups: unprocessed or minimally processed foods, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods, and ultra-processed foods. ultra-processed foods are defined as “formulations of several ingredients which, besides salt, sugar, oils, and fats, include food substances not used in culinary preparations, in particular flavours, colours sweeteners, emulsifiers, and other additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods and their culinary preparations or to disguise undesirable qualities of the final product.”[1]

In addition, according to numerous peer-reviewed medical science journals, ultra-processed food (often called merely processed food by laymen and others) poses numerous, serious health risks.[2] PubMed has over 1,800 medical journal articles related to the health risks of ultra-processed/processed food.[3]

BMJ (British Medical Journal) states:

Two large European studies published by The BMJ today find positive associations between consumption of highly processed (“ultra-processed”) foods and risk of cardiovascular disease and death.

The researchers say further work is needed to better understand these effects, and a direct (causal) link remains to be established, but they call for policies that promote consumption of fresh or minimally processed foods over highly processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods include packaged baked goods and snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, ready meals containing food additives, dehydrated vegetable soups, and reconstituted meat and fish products - often containing high levels of added sugar, fat, and/or salt, but lacking in vitamins and fibre. They are thought to account for around 25-60% of daily energy intake in many countries.

Previous studies have linked ultra-processed foods to higher risks of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and some cancers...[4]

in 2022, NBC News noted:

Evidence linking processed food to serious health issues like cancer and even death continues to mount.

A pair of studies published Wednesday highlights the risk of frequently eating items such as hot dogs, cheese puffs, soda and french fries.

The first study, which looked at more than 24,000 adults in Italy, found that those who consumed ultra-processed foods in large quantities had a higher risk of death overall, and mortality from heart disease in particular, relative to people who ate less food in this category.

The second study followed more than 200,000 U.S. health care workers over a span of 24 to 28 years, and found that men who consumed lots of ultra-processed food — more than nine servings per day, on average — had a 29% higher risk of colorectal cancer than men who ate around three daily servings.

Fang Fang Zhang, the second study’s senior author and an associate professor at Tufts University, said the group with the highest consumption of ultra-processed foods probably got around 80% of their daily calories from those items. The U.S. average is around 57%.[5]

According to Harvard University's School of Public Health:

Processed foods are generally thought to be inferior to unprocessed foods. They may bring to mind a packaged food item containing many ingredients, perhaps even artificial colors, flavors, or other chemical additives. Often referred to as convenience or pre-prepared foods, processed foods are suggested to be a contributor to the obesity epidemic and rising prevalence of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes...

If you are deciding whether or not to include a highly processed food in your diet, it may be useful to evaluate its nutritional content and long-term effect on health. An ultra-processed food that contains an unevenly high ratio of calories to nutrients may be considered unhealthy. For example, research supports an association between a high intake of sugar-sweetened beverages and an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.[6]

According to Healthline.com's 2017 article The 15 Unhealthiest Junk Foods in America: "In spite of their popularity, these deep-fried potatoes are very unhealthy."[7]

In 2019, Forbes magazine published the article Scientific Evidence Finally Backs Up Long-Held Theory That Processed Food Should Be Avoided which states:

But whether it’s low carb, low fat, keto, paleo or Mediterranean, nearly all experts do agree on one thing: it’s best to avoid ultra-processed foods. And now, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), there is some “solid scientific evidence to back up that advice.”

In other words, losing weight or avoiding putting it on in the first place, may be as simple as avoiding consumption of processed foods. But wait, that’s not simple at all.

According to eatthis.com, while trading fake food for the real deal will most likely improve your health, mood and appearance, your body as well as your brain makes the transition tough.

“Processed foods are chemical-laden, addictive foods usually sold in jars, boxes and bags, and armies of well-paid food scientists make it their missions to come up with recipes that appeal to your taste buds, even if it means causing havoc to your health,” Eat This Not That! reported. And it's precisely these kinds of products that make up almost 60 percent of our daily calories and 90 percent of the added sugar we consume.

“These foods are so hard to say no to because they are loaded with added sugars and fats, which physically change how they feel inside the mouth,” Lauren Minchen MPH, RDN, CDN explained to eatthis.com. “The altered texture and taste actually make the body crave more of it.”

“When you put processed foods into your body, not only are you choosing to fuel your body with nasty chemicals, you’re depriving it of the nutrients it needs," Eat This! Not That!—an information source in the food and wellness spaces—reports. "Processed foods are often stripped or void of nutrients, so it’s not like you’re eating an apple slice that’s been dipped in gasoline; you’re not even getting the fiber from the apple anymore. From weight loss to migraine relief, you can reap some serious health benefits if you ditch processed foods.”

According to the editors at Eatthis.com, in “21 Things That Happen to Your Body When You Stop Eating Processed Food,” not only will you lose weight faster, age slower, get less headaches and have better hair, skin and brain function, among others, you will actually start to hate processed foods.[8]

Christopher Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at Stanford University: 4 of the top 6 killers of Americans are related to an inadequate diet

4 of the top 6 killers of Americans are related to an inadequate diet.[9]

National Public Radio's 2023 article What we know about the health risks of ultra-processed foods indicates:

Ultra-processed foods currently make up nearly 60% of what the typical adult eats, and nearly 70% of what kids eat.

The category includes everything from cookies and sodas to jarred sauces, cereals, packaged breads and frozen meals, even ice creams. You might not realize you're eating one, but look close and you'll see many ingredients you wouldn't find in your kitchen – think bulking agents, hydrolyzed protein isolates, color stabilizers, humectants.

They dominate the food supply. And a large and growing body of evidence has consistently linked overconsumption of ultra-processed foods to poor health outcomes.

"Four of the top six killers are related to an inadequate diet, which in the U.S. is probably largely due to convenient, safe, inexpensive food that we eat too much of," says Christopher Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at Stanford University, who has spent decades studying the links between diet and chronic disease. "Too much of it leads to obesity and type two diabetes and heart disease and cancer."[10]

Consumption of ultra-processed foods and brain impairment

See also: Cognitive decline and diet

Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel. Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress — the "waste" (free radicals) produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.[11]

Unfortunately, just like an expensive car, your brain can be damaged if you ingest anything other than premium fuel.[12]

The article Ultra-processed foods – like cookies, chips, frozen meals and fast food – may contribute to cognitive decline published on University of Florida's Center for Aging and Memory website, the consumption of ultra-processed/processed/junk food may cause brain impairment/cognitive decline.

Eva Selhub MD wrote at Harvard University's Health Blog:

Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets only premium fuel. Eating high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants nourishes the brain and protects it from oxidative stress — the "waste" (free radicals) produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells.

Unfortunately, just like an expensive car, your brain can be damaged if you ingest anything other than premium fuel. If substances from "low-premium" fuel (such as what you get from processed or refined foods) get to the brain, it has little ability to get rid of them. Diets high in refined sugars, for example, are harmful to the brain. In addition to worsening your body's regulation of insulin, they also promote inflammation and oxidative stress. Multiple studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function — and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders, such as depression.

It makes sense. If your brain is deprived of good-quality nutrition, or if free radicals or damaging inflammatory cells are circulating within the brain's enclosed space, further contributing to brain tissue injury, consequences are to be expected. What's interesting is that for many years, the medical field did not fully acknowledge the connection between mood and food.[13]

Harvard Health Publishing, which is associated with the Harvard Medical School, noted:

Having a hard time giving up ultra-processed ("junk") foods? Those are items like microwaveable dinners, deli meat, white bread, packaged cookies, cheese puffs, and pastries. Perhaps this will help curb your appetite for them: A study published online Dec. 5, 2022, by JAMA Neurology found a link between eating lots of ultra-processed foods and cognitive decline. The study involved almost 11,000 dementia-free people (ages 35 to 74). Participants filled out food questionnaires and periodically underwent cognitive testing that measured memory, word recognition and recall, and other thinking skills. After eight years, scientists found that middle-aged people who ate the most junk food had a faster rate (up to 28%) of cognitive decline, compared with people who ate the least junk food. This is plausible, because we know that a diet rich in ultra-processed foods is associated with increased risks for many chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes (which have risk factors similar to those for dementia). So try to cut back on junk food and fill your plate with healthier goodies, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and lean proteins.[14]

On December 5, 2022, the website News Medical Life Science reported about ultra-processed foods (UPFs):

In a recent JAMA Neurology study, researchers report that consuming ultra-processed foods (UPFs) increases the risk of cognitive decline, particularly among middle-aged adults...

UPFs, which are food products that consist of highly processed food components such as oils, fats, sugars, starch, and protein isolates, offer little to no health benefit for the consumer. In addition to these ingredients, UPFs also often consist of artificial flavorings, colorings, emulsifiers, and other cosmetic additives. Some examples of common UPFs include breakfast cereals, sweet and savory snacks, ice cream, ready-to-eat frozen meals, processed meats, and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Over the past 40 years, the production of UPFs by the global food industry has increased substantially. In fact, recent estimates indicate that UPFs comprise 58% of the calories consumed by U.S. citizens, 57% of those consumed by British citizens, 48% of those consumed by Canadian citizens, and 30% of calories consumed by Brazilian citizens.

Previous studies indicate widespread consumption of UPFs is directly related to an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome, and obesity. However, due to the lack of data correlating the risk of UPF consumption and dementia, the current study aimed to better understand this potential association.[15]

New research indicates that regularly consuming ultra-processed foods such as hot dogs and frozen pizza can raise your risk of cognitive decline.[16]

In December 2022, Healthline.com published the article How Ultra-Processed Foods Can Raise Risk of Cognitive Decline which stated:

New research indicates that regularly consuming ultra-processed foods such as hot dogs and frozen pizza can raise your risk of cognitive decline.

In a study published today in the journal JAMA Neurology, researchers looked at more than 10,000 individuals over a median period of 8 years.

They concluded that people whose daily calorie intake is at least 20% from ultra-processed foods had a 25% faster decline in executive functions and a 28% faster rate of overall cognitive impairment.

The researchers noted that if a person’s overall diet quality was high, the effect of ultra-processed foods was less.

“While this is a study of association, not designed to prove cause and effect, there are a number of elements to fortify the proposition that some acceleration in cognitive decay may be attributed to ultra-processed foods,” Dr. David Katz, a specialist in preventive and lifestyle medicine and nutrition, told CNN.

“The sample size is substantial and the follow-up extensive. While short of proof, this is robust enough that we should conclude ultra-processed foods are probably bad for our brains,” he added.[17]

Fortune magazine's wellness portion of its website, Fortune Well, in its article entitled French fries on the brain? New study says eating ultra-processed food might lead to cognitive decline indicates:

You may want to think twice before you reach for that bag of potato chips. According to a new study, eating ultra-processed foods, such as ice cream, hot dogs, and french fries, for more than 20% of your caloric intake could lead to cognitive decline, especially with regards to memory and executive function–the part of the brain that helps us plan, focus, and make decisions.

While high intake of ultra-processed foods have been associated with cardiovascular disease and cancer and believed to induce systemic inflammation and oxidative stress, little was known about its effect on cognition until now.

The study, which was presented Monday at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in San Diego by Natalia Gonçalves, PhD from the University of São Paulo, followed roughly 10,000 Brazilians for up to 10 years and defined ultra-processed foods as “those that go through significant industrial processes and contain large quantities of fats, sugar, salt, artificial flavors/colors, stabilizers and/or preservatives.”

More than half of the participants were white and women and the average age was 51. Cognitive performance was evaluated using an array of tests: immediate recall, late recall, recognition, semantic and phonemic verbal fluency and trail-making tests. The most common foods participants reported eating were hot dogs, burgers, pizza, fast food, instant noodles, packaged bread, according to Gonçalves.

While the suggested daily caloric intake depends on a variety of factors, including age, weight and height, as well as level of physical activity, the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggests 2,200–2,800 calories for men between 41-50 years old and 1,800–2,200 calories for women between 41-50 years old, so 20% of a 2,200-calorie diet would be 440 calories. Meanwhile, a snack-sized bag of chips is about 150 calories and there are roughly 285 calories in a slice of pizza.[18]

Research from the past ten or so years has shown that the more ultraprocessed foods a person eats, the higher the chances that they feel depressed and anxious.[19]

The New York Times article The Link Between Highly Processed Foods and Brain Health notes:

Roughly 60 percent of the calories in the average American diet come from highly processed foods. We’ve known for decades that eating such packaged products — like some breakfast cereals, snack bars, frozen meals and virtually all packaged sweets, among many other things — is linked to unwelcome health outcomes, like an increased risk of diabetes, obesity and even cancer. But more recent studies point to another major downside to these often delicious, always convenient foods: They appear to have a significant impact on our minds, too.

Research from the past ten or so years has shown that the more ultraprocessed foods a person eats, the higher the chances that they feel depressed and anxious. A few studies have suggested a link between eating UPFs and increased risk of cognitive decline...

Recent research has demonstrated a link between highly processed foods and low mood. In one 2022 study of over 10,000 adults in the United States, the more UPFs participants ate, the more likely they were to report mild depression or feelings of anxiety. “There was a significant increase in mentally unhealthy days for those eating 60 percent or more of their calories from UPFs,” Dr. Hecht, the study’s author, said. “This is not proof of causation, but we can say that there seems to be an association...

“Many high-quality, randomized studies have shown the beneficial effect of a nutrient-dense diet on depression, but we still do not fully understand the role of food processing on mental health,” said Melissa Lane, a researcher at the Food & Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia. However, there are some clues.

Much of the research has focused on how poor gut health might affect the brain. Diets that are high in ultraprocessed foods are typically low in fiber, which is mostly found in plant-based foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Fiber helps feed the good bacteria in the gut. Fiber is also necessary for the production of short-chain fatty acids, the substances produced when it breaks down in the digestive system, and which play an important role in brain function, said Wolfgang Marx, the president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research and a senior research fellow at Deakin University. “We know that people with depression and other mental disorders have a less diverse composition of gut bacteria and fewer short-chain fatty acids.” [20]

Journal articles related to the consumption of processed foods and brain impairment

Consumption of processed foods and lower energy levels

According to Alicia Arbaje, M.D., M.P.H. at Johns Hopkins Medicine:

Fresh, whole, unprocessed foods renew energy levels with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

“Packaged, processed foods tend to make you feel sluggish and heavy,” says Johns Hopkins geriatrician Alicia Arbaje, M.D., M.P.H.

Eat animal products (especially red meat) in moderation—they take longer to digest, which saps energy.[21]

Secular Europe and the consumption of unhealthy ultra-processed food

See: Secular Europe and the consumption of unhealthy ultra-processed food

Joe Biden's frequent ice cream and junk food consumption, ultra-processed food and cognitive decline

Joe Biden is well-known for eating ice cream frequently. For example, The Daily Beast published an article entitled Ice Cream-Loving Joe Biden Forced to Get an Unscheduled Root Canal.[22]

For more information, please see: Joe Biden's frequent ice cream and junk food consumption, ultra-processed food and cognitive decline

See also: Joe Biden's frequent ice cream and junk food consumption, ultra-processed food and cognitive decline and Consumption of processed foods and brain impairment

Joe Biden is well-known for eating ice cream frequently. For example, The Daily Beast published an article entitled Ice Cream-Loving Joe Biden Forced to Get an Unscheduled Root Canal.[23]

The Daily Mail noted in 2023:

There's a food fight taking place at the White House, according to a new report on Monday, that's pitting Joe Biden's love of junk food against Jill Biden's quest to get him to eat more healthy.

The president is a known lover of ice cream, enjoying the sweet treat every chance he can get. He's also been known to indulge when he's outside of the White House - he had barbecue delivered to Air Force One when he was in Kansas City in December 2021 and ate pizza with the troops when he was in Poland in March 2022.[24]

According to Fortune magazine: "According to a new study, which was published Monday in JAMA Neurology, eating ultra-processed foods, such as ice cream, hot dogs, and french fries, for more than 20% of your caloric intake could lead to cognitive decline, especially with regards to memory and executive function–the part of the brain that helps us plan, focus, and make decisions."[25]

There's a food fight taking place at the White House, according to a new report on Monday, that's pitting Joe Biden's love of junk food against Jill Biden's quest to get him to eat more healthy.[26]

Tucker Carlson on ultra-processed food ("garbage food") and health risks

"I do know that our food supply is terrible. I partake of it a lot. You know I love pizza and Wheat Thins and chocolate chip cookies and every other garbage low-income food there is. I mean I love that stuff. But it's clearly bad for you. And if you go to countries... I've spent a lot of time in other countries... If you go to other countries that have lower GDPs and eat the food you realize... You can just feel it... This food is much better for me than the food I am getting in the United States. So there is clearly something wrong with our food supply. There's clearly something wrong with the way the Department of Agriculture created the food pyramid. I mean this all picked over. But clearly we are on some level being poisoned by what we eat. Obviously." - Tucker Carlson, 2022 [27]

"I do know that our food supply is terrible. I partake of it a lot. You know I love pizza and Wheat Thins and chocolate chip cookies and every other garbage low-income food there is. I mean I love that stuff. But it's clearly bad for you. And if you go to countries... I've spent a lot of time in other countries... If you go to other countries that have lower GDPs and eat the food you realize... You can just feel it... This food is much better for me than the food I am getting in the United States. So there is clearly something wrong with our food supply. There's clearly something wrong with the way the Department of Agriculture created the food pyramid. I mean this all picked over. But clearly we are on some level being poisoned by what we eat. Obviously." - Tucker Carlson, October 2022 [28]

See also

External links

Twin study:

Videos:

References

  1. Everything in moderation? Focusing on ultra-processed foods, Canadian Society of Intestinal Research website
  2. Ultra-Processed Food Availability and Noncommunicable Diseases: A Systematic Review, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2021 Jul 10;18(14):7382. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18147382.
  3. PubMed search results for the keyword "Processed food"
  4. New evidence links ultra-processed foods with a range of health risks, BMJ website, 2019
  5. Even more evidence links highly processed food to a greater risk of cancer and death, NBC News, 2022
  6. Processed Foods and Health, Harvard University's School of Public Health
  7. The 15 Unhealthiest Junk Foods in America, Healthline.com, 2017
  8. [Scientific Evidence Finally Backs Up Long-Held Theory That Processed Food Should Be Avoided], Forbes, 2022
  9. What we know about the health risks of ultra-processed foods, National Public Radio website, 2023
  10. What we know about the health risks of ultra-processed foods, National Public Radio website, 2023
  11. Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food by Eva Selhub MD, Harvard University's Health Blog, 2022
  12. Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food by Eva Selhub MD, Harvard University's Health Blog, 2022
  13. Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food by Eva Selhub MD, Harvard University's Health Blog, 2022
  14. Eating ultra-processed foods tied to cognitive decline, Harvard Health Publishing website, 2023
  15. Eating ultra-processed foods increases risk of cognitive decline, News Medical Life Science website, December 5, 2022
  16. How Ultra-Processed Foods Can Raise Risk of Cognitive Decline, 2022
  17. How Ultra-Processed Foods Can Raise Risk of Cognitive Decline, 2022
  18. French fries on the brain? New study says eating ultra-processed food might lead to cognitive decline, 2022
  19. The Link Between Highly Processed Foods and Brain Health, The New York Times, 2023
  20. The Link Between Highly Processed Foods and Brain Health, The New York Times, 2023
  21. Age-Defying Energy Levels, Johns Hopkins Medicine
  22. Ice Cream-Loving Joe Biden Forced to Get an Unscheduled Root Canal, The Daily Beast, 2023
  23. Ice Cream-Loving Joe Biden Forced to Get an Unscheduled Root Canal, The Daily Beast, 2023
  24. Jill wants Joe, 80, to ditch the ice cream and stop eating 'like a child': First Lady's battle for Biden to have less spaghetti and more fish and vegetables - with majority of Americans doubting his health and mental fitness for 2024 run
  25. New study says eating ultra-processed food might lead to cognitive decline, Fortune magazine, 2022
  26. Jill wants Joe, 80, to ditch the ice cream and stop eating 'like a child': First Lady's battle for Biden to have less spaghetti and more fish and vegetables - with majority of Americans doubting his health and mental fitness for 2024 run
  27. Tucker Carlson: The moment I changed | Will Cain Podcast, quote starts at 33 minutes and 55 seconds in the video
  28. Tucker Carlson: The moment I changed | Will Cain Podcast, October 22, 2022, Tucker Carlson quote starts at 33 minutes and 55 seconds in the video