Ultra processed foods: what they are and why they are bad for your health

Ultra processed foods: what they are and why they are bad for your health

There are several studies that point the finger against ultra-processed foods. Doctor Mariangela Allocca, gastroenterologist, explains what they are and why they can be harmful

Maria Elena Perrero

“‘Eat only what you can recognize’: what Umberto Veronesi said is confirmed by the latest studies on ultra processed foodswhich have proved to be harmful to health “: la Dr. Mariangela Allocca, gastroenterologist at the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, confirms the results of several studies conducted in recent years on ultra-processed industrial foods. Just to mention the latest in chronological order, an American one, published in the British Medical Journalhighlighted the link between ultra processed foods and an increased risk of colorectal cancer in men and women, while another Italian analysis, also published on BMJ, highlighted a more general increased mortality among those who consume the most ultra processed foods. But let’s start from the basics and try to understand what is meant by ultra-processed foods.

what are the ultra processed foods

“Ultra-processed or ultra-processed foods are all of those packaged foods, with long deadlines, worked by industries – explains a Official Active Dr. Allocca -. I am referring to foods such as i bakery products such as crackers, bread sticks and rusks, but also snacks e snacks, drinks sweetened and apparently healthier foods as many breakfast cereals, energy bars, even sweetened fruit yoghurt, which have very little of the ‘original’ yoghurt. These are foods that see the addition of additives and preservatives and that usually have expiry dates far ahead in time “.

Ultra-processed foods: the taste you like (and addictive)

The complex of additives and ingredients that go to compose the ultra processed foods it also sees the presence of components that make these foods highly palatable, tasty, so much so that often those who begin to consume them (especially if they start very young) can hardly stop. “This is the case with some carbonated drinks very common, of some biscuits and some spreads, but also of crisps and salty snacks: the strong presence of sugar or salt, together with other ingredients, makes these products very palatable. And when you try to opt for similar but less processed products, prepared with healthier ingredients, the transition is very difficult precisely for a matter of taste ”, emphasizes Dr. Allocca.

Ultra-processed foods: it’s not just the label that counts

If by now we should have learned what to read the label it is essential before buying a food, it would be good to pay attention to it too Expiration date. “In the field of packaged products in recent years the food industry is trying to develop foods that, if nothing else, have fewer preservatives and additives, and sometimes even choose to use some healthier ingredients, such as sunflower oil. instead of rapeseed or palm. But if the Expiration date of the food is far ahead in time is not a good indicator since in most cases it indicates the presence of preservatives, except for some foods like those vacuum packed“. It should be considered that even the processes know different degrees, so much so that it is specified that it is the ones that hurt ‘ultra-processed’ foods, and not the processed ones tout court. “Even the white bread and white pasta they are processed foods, so much so that usually those who are used to eating them will struggle to switch to wholemeal bread and pasta, therefore less processed and healthier. But eating a plate of white pasta is certainly not like eating a packet of crackers ”.

Ultra-processed foods: the effects on health

The health effects of ultra-processed foodstherefore, they would seem to go from an increased risk of metabolic pathologies linked to weight gain up, according to the studies cited above, to the increased incidence of cancer and mortality. “We are certainly talking about high power foods caloricwhich therefore tend to make you fat, thus increasing not only the risk of overweight and obesity but also of all those metabolic diseases that are linked to these conditions, from diabetes to hypercholesterolemia, from hypertension to cardiovascular diseases”, Underlines the gastroenterologist. “At first it was thought that these effects were linked to the poverty of these foods from the point of view of micronutrients. In other words, the health risks were thought to stem from a deficient diet. But subsequent studies have shown that it is not only the absence of important micronutrients that determine harmful effects on health, but also the presence of some ingredients such as sugar or salt (in excessive quantities), i preservatives and additives “. These highly processed foods, then, have a very low if any content of dietary fiberand this affects their glycemic index. It’s a glycemic index elevated leads to an increase in blood glucose levels (i.e. glycemia), which in turn creates a pro-inflammatory environment which can favor the onset of various pathologies. “Furthermore, the absence of dietary fibers negatively alters the microbiota, that is the intestinal bacterial flora, which has a fundamental role in people’s health – underlines Dr. Allocca -. A fiber-free diet, through the modification of the bacterial flora, it could be one of the causes that predispose to colorectal cancers. Not only that: a study by the National Cancer Institute has shown how a diet rich in sugars and saturated fats is also predisposing to breast cancer. For all these reasons, it would be good to eliminate all ultra-processed foods from your diet. Remembering that ultra worked does not simply mean worked. As a general indication, just make Veronesi’s words your own: if the food we are buying is not recognizable, if its ingredients are not recognizable, then it will be better to leave it out of our shopping cart “.

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