Processed Foods Can Increase Risks of Developing Chronic Diseases
July 18, 2019 Written by: Costectomy
America thrives on processed food. At least 60% of food consumed by the average American is processed. It’s probably because processed foods are affordable, convenient, and—let’s not forget—tasty. We know that this isn’t quite healthy in the long run, but did you know that this could exponentially increase your risk of developing chronic diseases? The diseases listed below have all been linked to the long-term consumption of processed foods:
- Diabetes: Most processed foods come loaded with sugar or its more dangerous (but cheaper) alternative—high-fructose corn syrup. Studies have found that the consumption of fructose syrup is associated with a 20% risk for diabetes.
- Heart disease: Processed foods contain ‘trans’ fats in the form of vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils. These fats accumulate in the blood vessels of the heart and can hamper normal blood flow. This increases the risk of hypertension, angina, and heart attacks.
- Obesity: The excess sugar coming from processed food is typically stored as fat. As a consequence, several studies have linked processed food intake to obesity. Other studies show that household availability of processed foods can increase the prevalence of obesity in the family by 25%.
- Irritable bowel syndrome: Processed foods contain chemical additives called emulsifiers, which are added to increase shelf life. Emulsifiers irritate the gut lining and prevent it from digesting foods properly. This leads to a condition called irritable bowel syndrome.
- Autoimmune diseases: Certain common additives in processed foods damage the ‘tight’ junctions that hold the intestinal cells together. Toxins present in the digestive tract (that would otherwise have been eliminated through stools) are then absorbed into the body. These toxins wreak havoc on the immune system, making it attack the body’s own cells. This can lead to several diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and thyroiditis.
- Depression: Processed foods can harm the production of serotonin in the gut. Serotonin is the body’s ‘happy drug;’ a deficiency can lead to mood swings, anxiety, and depression.
Should I avoid all processed foods?
Not all processed foods are unhealthy. Milk and fortified fruit juices need very little processing to keep nutrients intact. Canned or frozen fruits and vegetables also retain nutrients better than fresh ones. However, you should avoid foods that are full of chemical additives. Be sure to read the labels of food products that you purchase, so you know what you are consuming.
- Goran MI, Ulijaszek SJ, Ventura EE. High fructose corn syrup and diabetes prevalence: a global perspective. Global public health. 2013 Jan 1;8(1):55-64.
- Monteiro CA, Moubarac JC, Levy RB, Canella DS, da Costa Louzada ML, Cannon G. Household availability of ultra-processed foods and obesity in nineteen European countries. Public Health Nutrition. 2018 Jan;21(1):18-26.
- Lerner A, Matthias T. Changes in intestinal tight junction permeability associated with industrial food additives explain the rising incidence of autoimmune disease. Autoimmunity reviews. 2015 Jun 1;14(6):479-89.
- Sánchez-Villegas A, Toledo E, De Irala J, Ruiz-Canela M, Pla-Vidal J, Martínez-González MA. Fast-food and commercial baked goods consumption and the risk of depression. Public health nutrition. 2012 Mar;15(3):424-32.