The Effects of Ultra-Processed Food Consumption

Ultra-processed foods (UPF) are made using multiple techniques. These include pre-frying, hydrogenation, emulsification, extrusion, preservation, and artificial flavors and colors. By using ultra-processing techniques, manufacturers can offer cheap, easy-to-market, long-lasting, and hyper-palatable products.

Consumption of ultra-processed food is prevalent across the globe, so are the prevalence of diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and cancer.

 Are Ultra-processed Foods Bad for Your Health?

UPF tend to be tastier and cheaper. The problem is that they usually contain ingredients that can be harmful if consumed excessively. These include saturated fats, artificial flavoring, and chemical preservatives.

Moreover, these foods tend to have less fibre and nutrients than whole products.

According to a review published on the Nutritional Epidemiology, UPF consumption correlates with the incidence of type-2 diabetes in Latin America.

Before this publication, a study on 100,000 adults found out that UPF consumption increases the risks of heart problems by up to 10%.

These only attest to the systematic review of epidemiological studies, which showed that consumption of UPF could contribute to the risk of all-cause mortality.

2015 study also showed that people with high-sugar, high-salt, and high-fat diets have a smaller hippocampus. Take note that the hippocampus is the part of the brain that plays a role in memory, learning, and emotions.

The detrimental effects of industrially-prepared food products are constantly exposed to the public.

But why can’t we stop consuming them?

It turns out we’re not buying UPF just because they’re more affordable. Researches show that most of them are addictive!

Dr Ashley N. Gearhardt, a University of Michigan associate professor in psychology, stated that processed foods—such as fries, potato chips, frozen pizza, and packaged cookies—have addictive attributes similar to cocaine and tobacco.

Highly processed foods intensify our natural cravings for fat and carbohydrates to the point of addiction. Compared to unprocessed and minimally processed foods, UPFs are more effective in pleasing the reward-related neural systems in the brain. Dr Gearhardt added that our failure to avoid excessively processed food is comparable to the relapsing pattern in addictive substances.

Therefore, classifying UPF as non-addictive could pave the way to the creation of more addictive foods. The worst part is, vulnerable individuals may be criticized for lacking personal responsibility when they overconsume UPFs.

The Bottom Line

The specific components in UPF that may lead to addictive behaviours are still not identified. Experts suggest that the behavioral effects can also stem from the taste, texture, and accessibility of these products.

According to Shane Perry, Max Funding’s senior business analyst, it can take years before UPF is regulated. He says, “More definite answers are needed although it is already obvious that highly processed foods are harmful. The best thing we can do is to shift to healthier food options gradually.”

Just 1 in 10 adults meet the federal fruit or vegetable recommendations, according to a study published today in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). This report highlights that very few Americans eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables every day, putting them at risk for chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.


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