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Ultra-Processed Foods Feed Health Problems

Increased Risks of Cancer, Depression & Dementia

Ultra-Processed Foods Feed Health Problems

By John Salak –

The team’s supposition was correct. After analyzing data and responses from more than 200,000 participants, the researchers discovered that ultra-processed food significantly heightens the risk of colorectal cancer in men. In fact, the greatest danger came from ultra-processed meat, poultry or fish-based, ready-to-eat products. 

“These products include some processed meats like sausages, bacon, ham, and fish cakes. This is consistent with our hypothesis,” Wang added.

Sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, fruit-based beverages and sugary milk-based beverages also sharply increased the risk of colorectal cancer in men.

Surprisingly, not all ultra-processed foods presented the same risk. “We found an inverse association between ultra-processed dairy foods like yogurt and colorectal cancer risk among women,” explained co-senior author Fang Zhang, a cancer epidemiologist at Tufts. “Foods like yogurt can potentially counteract the harmful impacts of other types of ultra-processed foods in women.”

Colorectal cancer is only one risk recently connected to ultra-processed foods. Apparently, a high level of their consumption can result in “mentally unhealthy days” and anxious days,” Florida Atlantic University reported

FAU’s study of more than 10,000 adults found that those who consumed lots of processed foods suffered from relatively high levels of mild depression. These individuals also had significantly fewer days of reporting zero mental health problems or anxiety compared to those who ate little or no ultra-processed foods.

The consequences of the findings are staggering, considering that 70 percent of packaged food in the U.S. is ultra-processed and the food category represents about 60 percent of all the calories consumed in the country. 

“The ultra-processing of food depletes its nutritional value and also increases the number of calories, as ultra-processed foods tend to be high in added sugar, saturated fat and salt, while low in protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals,” reported Eric Hecht, the study’s corresponding author and an affiliate associate professor at the university. “Given the magnitude of exposure to and effects of ultra-processed food consumption, our study has significant clinical and public health implications.”

The concerns over the health impact of these foods don’t end with an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and depression. Research funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and published in Neurology®, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, reported that people who consumed high levels of ultra-processed foods also have a higher risk of developing dementia than those who didn’t.

“Ultra-processed foods are meant to be convenient and tasty, but they diminish the quality of a person’s diet,” reported Huiping Li, the study’s author and a faculty member at China’s Tianjin Medical University. “These foods may also contain food additives or molecules from packaging or produced during heating, all of which have been shown in other studies to have negative effects on thinking and memory skills. Our research not only found that ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of dementia, but it also found replacing them with healthy options may decrease dementia risk.”

Li’s team concluded after examining data from more than 70,000 individuals from UK Biobank, a large health database. While the exact relation between these foods and the increased risk of dementia hasn’t been clearly identified, the team noted that changes in diet can significantly reduce the risk of developing memory problems. 

“It’s encouraging to know that small and manageable changes in diet may make a difference in a person’s risk of dementia,” Li added.

 

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