Most ultra-processed foods like packaged baked goods and snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, ready meals containing food additives, and reconstituted meat and fish products -- contain high levels of added sugar, fat and salt, but very low vitamins and fibre. As nutrients are lost during processing, they offer no nutritional value. Too many processed foods can also increase risk for a number of health problems. For example, a new study has suggested that a higher intake of ultra-processed food is associated with higher risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
The study found that people who consumed five or more servings of ultra-processed food per day had 82% higher risk of IBD compared with those who consumed less than one serving per day. The risk was 67% higher for 1-4 servings per day.
Published in The BMJ, the study supports the hypothesis that intake of ultra-processed foods could be an environmental risk factor for IBD.
It is believed that dietary factors might play a role in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is more common in industrialised nations. But until now there was limited data linking ultra-processed food intake with IBD.
An international team of researchers tried to explore this theory further by examining dietary information from 116,087 adults aged 35-70 years living in 21 low, middle and high-income countries. They were participants of the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study, which aims to study the impact of societal influences on chronic diseases around the world.
The participants were enrolled between 2003 and 2016 and were assessed at least every three years. After over 9 years of follow-up, some of them reported new diagnoses of IBD, including Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. Total 467 participants developed IBD (90 with Crohn's disease and 377 with ulcerative colitis).
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It was found that higher intake of ultra-processed food, including soft drinks, refined sweetened foods, salty snacks, and processed meat, was associated with a higher risk of IBD, even after considering other potentially influential factors.
However, intakes of white meat, unprocessed red meat, dairy, starch, and fruit, vegetables, and legumes (such as peas, beans and lentils) were not found to be associated with development of IBD. This suggests that it might not be the food itself that confers this risk but rather the way the food is processed or ultra-processed, the researchers pointed out.
They concluded that further studies are needed to identify specific potential factors in processed foods that might be responsible for the observed link.
Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of disorders that cause chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, or pain and swelling in the intestines. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are the main types of IBD. Crohn's disease most commonly affects the small intestine and upper part of the large intestine, but it can affect any part from the mouth to the anus. Ulcerative colitis is characterized by swelling and sores (ulcers) in the large intestine (colon and rectum).
Symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease include abdominal pain, diarrhea gas and bloating, loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss, mucus or, blood in stool, and upset stomach. Rarely, it may cause fatigue, fever, itchy, red, painful eyes, joint pain, nausea and vomiting, skin rashes and sores (ulcers), and vision problems.