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Ultra-processed junk food 'increases risks of an early death and heart problems'

Ultra-processed junk food 'increases risks of an early death and heart problems'
Higher intake of ultra-processed foods may up death risk

Those with the highest level of industrial processing fall into the category of ultra-processed foods.

Written by Satata Karmakar |Published : December 19, 2020 3:22 PM IST

Packaged and processed foods have overtaken our diet in the past few years. Factors like a busy lifestyle, lack of time to cook, personal liking towards junk and cheap and easily available food options have masked the goodness of natural foods and are the reason why we're continuously moving towards processed foods despite being aware that they're bad for our health.

A new study has claimed that consuming a high amount of ultra-processed foods may increase the risk of death from any cause by 26 per cent, and 58 per cent specifically from cardiovascular diseases.


Processed foods comprise a whole lot of foods items made from refined food products that undergo processing for removal of fibre content in them. So, everything from white rice to refined flour or maida-based products like noodles, biscuits, cookies, cakes, khari-butter are processed foods. The refining process also causes loss of valuable nutrients like vitamins and minerals that are naturally present in them before undergoing processing. Moreover, additives and chemicals added to these foods contribute to ill effects they can have over the years.

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Although the trend of consuming refined foods was adopted from the Western countries, today it has become a big issue because processed food is cheaper than natural foods. So, its consumption has increased not only in terms of the number of people consuming it but also in terms of the volume of food consumed by each one of them.


Supermarket shelves are increasingly flooded with foods produced by extensive industrial processing, generally low in essential nutrients, high in sugar, oil and salt and liable to be overconsumed.

Now a study from IRCCS NEUROMED - Mediterranean Neurological Institute in Italy,confirms that these foods are harmful to health.

Published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study was conducted on over 22,000 people participating in the Moli-sani Project.

By analyzing their eating habits and following their health conditions for over 8 years, the researchers were able to observe that those consuming a high amount of ultra-processed foods had an increased risk of death.

"We used the international NOVA classification, which characterizes foods on the basis of how much they undergo an extraction, purification or alteration," said study author Marialaura Bonaccio from IRCCS.


Those with the highest level of industrial processing fall into the category of ultra-processed foods.

"According to our observations, people consuming large amounts of these foods have an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases," Bonaccio added.

The main culprit could be sugar, which in ultra-processed foods is added in substantial amounts. But the answer seems more complex.

"According to the analyses, the excess of sugar does play a role, but it accounts only for 40 per cent of the increased death risk.

"Efforts aimed to lead the population towards a healthier dietcan no longer be addressed only by calories counting or by vague references to the Mediterranean diet."

Young people, in particular, are increasingly exposed to pre-packaged foods, easy to prepare and consume, extremely attractive and generally cheap.

"Spending a few more minutes cooking a lunch instead of warming a container in the microwave, or maybe preparing a sandwich for our children instead of putting a pre-packaged snack in their backpack: these are actions that will reward us over the years," the authors noted.


Does a major part of your diet include noodles, chips, biscuits and pastries? Here's how they are making you sick.


Processed foods tend to be higher in four main components refined sugar, salt, saturated fats and trans fats. All four of them are linked to increased risk of obesity. Due to the lack of fibre, these foods do not induce the feeling of fullness. As a result, you tend to consume more junk food and add useless calories to your diet. Since a major part of our population lives a sedentary lifestyle, consumption of processed food is making people obese.


Lack of fibre in food takes a toll on blood sugar levels. Many people believe that eating a small quantity of junk food at one time will not do much harm. But that's a misconception. Every single time you eat junk food your sugar levels spike, irrespective of the quantity you eat. Even if you eat a small quantity, you're still consuming it 4-5 times in a day, resulting in spiked sugar levels 4-5 times. This fluctuation is what accelerates the progression to pre-diabetes. Your body will eventually reach a stage where it will not be able to handle these fluctuating levels. That's the start point of diabetes.


Indian diet primarily comprises of cereals. Now, if these cereals are themselves refined and processed to remove the fibre content, imagine the compounding effect it can have on your nutrition intake. The saturated fats and trans fats in them contribute to increased triglyceride and bad cholesterol (LDL) levels. Every time your blood sugar level increases, it damages the linings of the blood vessels causing chronic inflammation. This inflammation causes bad cholesterol to stick to the walls of the arteries, blocking blood flow to the heart. When they're blocked enough, a heart attack occurs.


Refined foods undergo a lot of chemical processing, which means a lot of additives and harmful stances are added to them in order to increase their shelf life and make them tastier. One of those ingredients is salt. Also, the salt used in these products is so finely ground, that each grain of salt has a specific particle size capable of stimulating your hunger and increasing your cravings to these foods. You obviously want to eat more junk food. But, higher the salt intake, greater the risk fluctuations in sodium-potassium balance and the risk of suffering from high blood pressure.


The recommended daily intake of fibre should be around 25-30 gm, which cannot be met if a major part of your diet includes processed foods. Fibre aids digestion by adding bulk to the diet and allowing easy movement of digested food through the colon. It also improves the consistency of stool, preventing straining. Naturally, without fibre, digestion is greatly affected. 'These days more number of people are suffering from gastrointestinal problems like constipation, bloating, acidity, indigestion and irritable bowel syndrome. The number of cases of piles has also increased in the past few years, all thanks to processed foods.


With this study, it is very clear that there is an urgent need to drastically reduce the consumption of ultra-processed foods and up the intake of fresh vegetables and fruits, which have long been associated with good health. If you think it is difficult to do so, you have got to try out these healthier swaps for ultra-processed foods.


When white bread is manufactured, the bran and wheat germ are removed from the wheat flour and compounds such as potassium bromate, benzoyl peroxide and chlorine dioxide gas are added. These spell trouble for your health and up your risk of diseases like diabetes and obesity.


Store-bought cookies have refined flour, lots of sugar, preservatives and other additives that make them extremely unhealthy.


Made with refined flour and other additives, the store-bought pasta has no fibre and hardly any nutrients.


French fries in popular fast-food restaurants can be deadly to your health because they are deep-fried in reheated oil, have excess salt and other additives.

(With inputs from IANS)

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