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Impact of Ultra-Processed Foods : Unveiling Their Destructive Impact

Pia VermaakPia Vermaak  June 25, 2024

50% of all food consumed by the average American is ultra-processed. We find it an easy option to grab a “snack-on-the-go” but our bodies pay the price, and so does our mental health!

Ultra-processed foods can be linked to serious health conditions like heart disease, strokes, obesity, and diabetes. And who wants that? Let’s examine what these foods are made of, their cons, global effects, and amazing health tips you can opt for instead.

unhealthy processed foods

Ultra-processed Food Definition

Ultra-processed foods are industrially formulated foods derived from natural ingredients, but due to processing, they contain substances that are extremely addictive, such as preservatives, coloring, and flavorings.

What Are Ultra-Processed Foods?

The 4 NOVA classifications of foods:

[NOVA classifies foods into 4 groups: Unprocessed or lightly processed, processed natural ingredients, processed foods, and ultra processed foods.]

1. Whole Foods or Minimally Processed Foods

These foods are only slightly altered, meaning they still provide your body with needed nutrients. They include grains, milk, vegetables, fruits, chicken, seeds, nuts, and starchy foods!

2. Processed Culinary Ingredients

  • Vegetable oils
  • Butter
  • Cooking fats
  • Salt
  • Sugar 

3. Processed Meals

  • Preserved fruits and vegetables 
  • Canned meats 
  • Canned sauces and soups
  • Candied fruits
  • Pastas
  • Purees
  • Cheese
  • Bread

4. Ultra-Processed Foods and Drinks

  • Cookies and biscuits
  • Baby formula
  • Ice cream
  • Soda
  • Hamburgers
  • Sausages
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Potato chips
  • Heat and eat meals
  • Prepackaged meals
  • Protein shakes

Ultra-Processed Foods Found in Modern Day Diets

Ultra processed foods have become a worldly concern as they are designed to be an all-round favorite. They are a mix between sugar, fat, and salt. This clever combination makes it very hard to stop after just one bite.

Although part of the modern day diet, convenience does come at a cost and in this case, it is health disorders which include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and digestive issues. 

What Goes Into Ultra-Processed Foods?

  • Flavor enhancers
  • Flavoring
  • Emulsifying salts
  • Sweeteners
  • Added sugars
  • Trans fats
  • Anti-foaming agents
  • Gelling and glazing agents
  • Anti-bulking agents
  • Emulsifiers 
  • High-fructose corn syrup 
  • Gluten
  • Modified oils
  • Lactose

Ultra-Processed Foods Health Risks

Ultra processed foods lack nutritional value. They provide little to no benefit to your body, make you full for short periods of time, and pump your body full of unwanted/unneeded toxins.

health effects of processed foods

Health Issues You May Face Due to Eating Ultra-processed Foods:

Digestive Problems 

Ultra processed foods lack both nutrients and fiber.

These foods don’t have much to break down which can make your digestive system sluggish. You may struggle with issues like constipation, boating, acid reflux, etc. 

Heart Disease 

Our hearts can’t function properly without a good supply of nutrients and healthy fats! When we spend our time eating ultra processed foods and unhealthy fats, we clog our arteries, which can lead to heart attacks.

Diabetes 

The sugars and sweeteners in ultra processed foods raise sugar levels. While sweeteners don’t spike our sugar levels as much as sugar, they can trigger an insulin response. After a long period, your body can become insulin resistant which results in sugar problems and later diabetes.

Mental Health Disorders 

The harmful ingredients in these foods can cause an imbalance in essential brain chemicals that help regulate us and keep our brain and body healthy and functioning. 

What Scientific Studies and Statistics Show

Many studies have determined the effects of ultra processed foods, and a shocking discovery found that they are linked to 32 different health issues. 

Below are statistics on how eating ultra-processed foods can raise health issues:

  • Obesity – 55%
  • Sleep Disorders – 41%
  • Type 2 Diabetes – 40%
  • Depression – 20%

The professor who developed the NOVA system and created the term “ultra-processed foods,” Monteiro, has explained that ultra-processed foods are not just modified but can be seen as chemically manipulated cheap ingredients being made into formulations. He went on to say that humans have not been able to adapt to properly consuming and digesting these unhealthy foods, which is why he created the four categories to help professionals and individuals alike see these foods differently.

Calorie intake from ultra-processed foods in the U.S: 

  • Adults – 57% of daily calories 
  • Youth – 67% of daily calories

Clearing Up Ultra Processed Food Myths

1. Ultra-Processed Foods Cause the Most Deaths Worldwide

This is not true; ultra-processed foods may be a rising health concern, but they are not responsible for causing the most deaths worldwide. This doesn’t mean that health issues linked to ultra-processed foods have not caused deaths. With serious illnesses like heart disease and cancer, there may not be precise numbers, but studies have shown significant rises in ultra-processed food-related deaths. 

2. Ultra-Processed Foods are Quick Healthy Choices

Just because advertisements suggest that these foods are the easy options, it doesn’t mean they are the healthy option.

3. Ultra-Processed Foods are Needed for Modern Lifestyles

Since when is easy the best option? Our bodies are not meant to process ultra-processed foods. 

The body suffers when you opt for a quick and easy snack. To combat the urge for ultra-processed foods, add a healthy side to each plate of processed food.

Tips to Reduce Unhealthy Ultra Processed Foods Consumption

processed foods to avoid

  • Meal prep is a handy way to ensure that easy, on-hand meals are available when needed. It helps individuals stick to a healthy diet and eliminate processed foods.
  • If you are craving something, try making it yourself. Your body will thank you!
  • Try to make cravings at home instead. Pizza and hamburgers can be delicious and healthy when you choose whole grain, wholefood ingredients!
  • Packing a lunch can be helpful as it’s very common for individuals to rush and have the idea of buying lunch. A healthy and balanced lunch can significantly affect energy and health. 
  • Be aware of food labels. This is the easiest way to know what’s going into your body. Watch out for high sodium, added sugars, trans fat, and other previously mentioned ingredients.

The Future of Food Processing

The future is looking promising! The food industry is actively working on becoming more sustainable, healthier and eco-friendly. There are many technologies to help with this. Let’s take a look at them. 

Here is what they will include: 

Conclusion

Ultra-processed foods are full of preservatives and additives, such as corn syrup, sweeteners, trans fat, modified oils, sodium, and many more. Let’s be real, these foods are not worth the health risks. Start making better choices today, your physical and mental well-being depend on it! 


Pia Vermaak

Pia Vermaak 

Pia Vermaak is the owner of the leading digital marketing and content writing company, MotherTyper. Her skill sets include degrees/certificates in beauty, psychology, business, and writing! MotherTyper has writers from all over the world with different races, genders, and backgrounds, ensuring the perfect piece is written, researched, and presented to you!