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A recent meta-analysis in the British Journal of Medicine (BMJ) looked at the health issues linked to the frequent ingestion of ultra-processed foods, and the results were quite worrisome.

What exactly is an “ultra-processed food”? 

Researchers at the School of Public Health at the University of San Paulo in Brazil developed a classification system (Nova Food Classification System) that grouped foods based on the degree of processing. For example, foods in Group 1 consist of unprocessed or minimally processed foods such as fresh fruits vegetables and whole grains. Group 4 foods are described as:

“Ultra-processed foods are industrial formulations made entirely or mostly from substances extracted from foods (oils, fats, sugar, starch, and proteins), derived from food constituents (hydrogenated fats and modified starch), or synthesized in laboratories from food substrates or other organic sources (flavor enhancers, colors, and several food additives used to make the product hyper-palatable).”

Examples of Group 4 foods include most foods that are found in the Standard American Diet (SAD Diet”) such as:

  • biscuits/cookies
  • fatty, sweet, savory or salty packaged snacks
  • pre-prepared pizza and pasta dishes
  • ice creams and frozen desserts
  • pre-prepared burgers, hot dogs, sausages
  • chocolates, candies and confectionery in general • pre-prepared poultry and fish ‘nuggets’ and ‘sticks’
  • cola, soda and other carbonated soft drinks • other animal products made from remnants
  • ‘energy’ and sports drinks 
  • packaged breads, hamburger and hot dog buns
  • canned, packaged, dehydrated (powdered) and other ‘instant’ soups, noodles, sauces, desserts, drink mixes and seasonings 
  • baked products made with ingredients such as hydrogenated vegetable fat, sugar, yeast, whey, emulsifiers, and other additives 
  • sweetened and flavored yogurts, including fruit yogurts 
  • breakfast cereals and bars 
  • dairy drinks, including chocolate milk 
  • sweetened juices 
  • pastries, cakes and cake mixes
  • margarines and spreads 
  • distilled alcoholic beverages such as whisky, gin, rum, vodka, etc.

So yes, pretty much most foods that  you would eat at a Tigers’ baseball game or purchase at a local party store, are considered ultra-processed!

Another recent BJM study, sought to identify the worst of the worst foods and the results are not too surprising. The foods that were deemed to be the most harmful to your health were meat/poultry/seafood based ready-to-eat products, sugar and artificially sweetened beverages, dairy based desserts, and ultra-processed breakfast foods.

Impact on Cardiovascular Health

The researchers also found a higher risk of cardiovascular disease/death as well as type 2 diabetes. Interestingly there also was a higher risk of anxiety, depression, insomnia  and “combined common mental disorders” in the group that ate ultra-processed foods. I do not think most people- including physicians – understand the link between mood disorders and diet. There is also research that shows depression may be linked in part to low levels of Omega 3 fatty acid ingestion. Omega 3’s are found in deep cold water fish such as salmon, sardines and mackerel, as well as in chia and flax seeds and walnuts. For more information on the relationship between mood and foods check out this article  For more info, check out this link

What you eat can affect your lifespan. An easy way to remember what foods you should be eating follow the advice of author Michael Pollan:

Eat Whole Foods.

Not Too Much.

Mostly Plants.

Check out our Nutritional Evaluation for an in-depth look at your nutrient status and how you can improve your longevity by supplementing your nutrition!