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Causing obesity and cancer: what are processed foods and why are they dangerous

Everyone has heard that processed foods make us fatter, lead to cancer and are associated with early death. But what are semi-finished products? This question was answered by the publication Business Insider.

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Ultra-processed foods with preservatives and sugars have been linked to earlier death and an increased risk of heart disease, according to a study published December 18 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

A group of Italian researchers followed 24 men and women aged 325 and over for 35 years, collecting data on their eating habits and health status.

They found that participants on a diet high in processed foods had a higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, heart attack, or stroke. According to the available data, the more processed foods they ate, the more the risk increased.

Researchers have suggested that sugar plays an important role in risk. However, neither sugar nor other ingredients like saturated fat can fully explain the health risks, which means we still don't fully understand why processed foods are so dangerous.

But this is far from the first time that added sugar, salt, fat and preservatives have been linked to poor health.

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A 2019 study by the National Institutes of Health found that people who ate convenience foods ate more calories and gained more weight than when they were offered the same amount of nutrients from less processed foods.

The discovery suggests that there is something different in how quickly our bodies metabolize processed foods and how those foods interact with key hormones that help regulate our appetite.

Other researchers have linked packaged and prepared foods to more cancers and earlier deaths.

What are semi-finished products

The researchers found that in this latest study, the most common ultra-processed foods were processed meats, pizza, and cakes. But not all processed foods are created equal. After all, a home-made chicken and salad sandwich can be considered a processed food, just like a cheese quesadilla.

So what exactly defines a certain food as processed or ultra-processed

To answer this question, scientists and nutritional experts often use a four-tiered system called NOVA, which classifies everything we eat as one of these four categories: unprocessed or minimally processed, processed culinary ingredients, processed foods, and ultra-processed foods. food and drinks.

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Unprocessed foods include edible parts of plants (fruits, vegetables, seeds, roots, etc.) or animals, as well as mushrooms and algae. They can be fresh, frozen, or even fermented - the important difference is that they have not been processed with additives, salted or rubbed with oil. Examples include dry beans, grains such as rice, fresh or dried mushrooms, meat and dairy products, seafood, yogurt, nuts, and spices.

Processed cooking ingredients are becoming more popular. These are ingredients made from unprocessed foods such as vegetable oils, butter. Extracted products such as honeycomb honey, cane sugar and maple syrup are also included in this category.

Processed foods are foods that have been added with ingredients such as sugar, salt, and fat to help them stay edible for longer. Canned fruits, fermented bread (which is most breads, since they are made with yeast), alcohol, cheese, pickles, and pickled nuts are all on this list.

Finally, there are ultra-processed foods. These items are designed to be heated and eaten immediately. To make this possible, these products are often processed with thickeners, colors, glazes and additives. They are fried before being packed in jars or wrappers. They may contain high fructose corn syrup, protein isolates, or transesterified oils (trans fat substitutes that are now widely banned). Examples of ultra-processed foods include packaged muesli bars, carbonated soft drinks, candy, mass produced bread, margarine, energy drinks, flavored yogurt, chicken nuggets, and hot dogs.

These are the elements researchers are citing when they say that ultra-processed foods are associated with increased incidence of cancer, premature death, and weight gain.

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Of course, these foods tend to be more convenient and cheaper than less processed foods because they are less perishable.

“Ultra-processed foods have many benefits in terms of convenience,” said Kevin Hall, lead author of the study. “They’re cheap and you don’t have to have all the fresh ingredients on hand that might go bad. You don't need to have all the equipment to prepare these meals from scratch. "

But experts, including Hall, say that if you can afford it, cutting back on ultra-processed foods is a good strategy for maintaining a healthy weight and disease-free.

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