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Worrying signs that processed foods can damage your health

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Recent research has linked diets containing a variety of "ultra-processed" foods such as soft drinks, instant soups, and chicken nuggets to increased risk of obesity, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, and even cancer. Two studies published this spring by the BMJ also found a link between the high intake of these foods and the risk of cardiovascular disease and early death.

Both studies are observational studies, ie they can not directly demonstrate cause and effect. However, there's more and more evidence that ultra-processed foods can harm your health, says Mark Lawrence, a professor of public health nutrition at Deakin University in Australia, who has written an editorial accompanying both studies.

What the studies found

For both studies, researchers used a food classification system called NOVA developed by Brazilian scientists. This system divides foods into four categories:

● unprocessed foods such as fruits; Vegetables; Legumes; Milk; eggs; Meat; Poultry; Seafood; fermented milk, such as yoghurt; Full grain; natural juice; Coffee; and water.

● Processed cooking ingredients such as salt, sugar, honey, vegetable oils, butter and lard.

● Processed foods such as condensed milk, cheese, ham, canned fruits, bread, beer and wine.

● Ultra-processed foods ̵

1; foods that contain ingredients that you would not cook with, such as: As dyes, anti-caking agents and emulsifiers. "Everything with a long list of ingredients, including additives, is suspicious," says Lawrence. Examples include packaged baked goods such as biscuits and croissants, sugar-containing cereals, ready meals with food additives, instant soups and sausages such as salami and hot dogs.

In the first study, researchers had more than 105,000 French middle-aged adults fill out six 24-hour questionnaires. They found that for 10 percent of a respondent's diet consisting of ultra-processed foods, the rate of heart disease, cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease such as stroke increased by just over 10 percent. The more unprocessed or minimally processed foods they consumed, the lower their risk.

In the second study, researchers had nearly 20,000 Spanish graduates fill in a 136-point questionnaire. They found that those who consumed more than four servings of ultra-processed foods a day had a 62 percent higher risk of dying during the study period than those who ate less than two servings a day. Every serving of ultra-processed food increases the risk of death by 18 percent.

Researchers are not sure why ultra-processed foods can cause health problems.

"They often contain a lot of saturated fat, calories, sugar and sugars salt and little important nutrients like fiber," says Mathilde Touvier, nutrition epidemiologist at the Sorbonne Paris Cité Research Center for Epidemiology and Statistics and co-author of the French study. "But we also believe that this is due to the wide range of chemicals and additives that are included in these foods, ranging from acrylamide, a carcinogenic chemical that is produced in the heating of processed foods, to bisphenol A, which is available in packaging of a product. "

But it's useless to find out which ingredients are harmful, says Lawrence. "Rather than trying to reformulate these packaged foods to make them safer, we should focus our efforts on ensuring that unprocessed or minimally processed foods are affordable and available."

Another problem with ultra-processed foods is that people tend to overeat them and thus gain weight. A recent study published in the journal Cell Metabolism found that people who ate an ultra-processed diet ate about 500 calories more a day than people whose diets were high in whole foods.

"Refined carbs and fat," says David Katz, director of the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Derby, Connecticut, appetite-suppressing hormones as those who ate whole foods. As a result, they may have eaten more to feel satisfied.

How to Eat More Whole Foods

About 60 percent of Americans' daily calories come from ultra-processed foods. So there is room for improvement. "It's not that you have to cut them completely out of your diet – it seems that health risks crop up once you start eating more than two servings per day," says Lawrence. "As with everything else in life, it's about moderation."

Here are five easy ways to reduce the shot.

Read the ingredient lists carefully. The shorter, the better. Avoid anything that contains hardened oils, artificial flavors, or strange-sounding substances that are not used to maintain freshness, according to the manufacturer. "All the ingredients should look the way you could make them in your own kitchen," says Katz. This is true even if it is a seemingly healthy staple food, z. As an energy bar, a protein shake or even a milk drink based on plants. All of this has received a health halo, though it can be ultra-processed foods, says Julie Stefanski, a nutritionist in Morrisville, NC, and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics.

Do It Yourself. It may be easier than you think to make your own staple food. "It takes less than a minute to mix a salad dressing with ingredients you have on hand, such as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and herbs and spices," says Stefanski. Instead of spending money on a pre-made protein shake, make your own with low-fat milk, frozen fruit, and a tablespoon of natural nut butters. Instead of a sugary fruit-flavored yoghurt, opt for the simple variant and sweeten it with fruit.

● Buy well. When you get to the grocery store, concentrate on the perimeter. Here are the most unprocessed products – such as vegetables, legumes, nuts, dairy products, meat and fish. Do not be shy of canned or frozen fruit, vegetables, broth or meat. Although these foods are considered "processed" foods, they were not associated with an increased risk of death or illness, according to Lawrence.

● Skip creams and sweeteners in coffee or tea. Most powdered and flavored liquid creams are simply dried high fructose corn syrup, says Stefanski. Instead, lighten your drink with a dash of milk.

● Plan snacks in advance. Mostly we resort to processed foods because it is convenient. Take snacks such as home-made trail mix or fruit with nut butters so you're not scared of hunger instead of attacking the vending machine.

Copyright 2019, Consumer Reports Inc.

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