New York: Frozen pizzas, sodas and frozen pizzas tend to be full of salt, sugar and fat, but scientists are now trying to figure out if there is anything else that could harm such processed foods.
Already, the proliferation of cheap and packaged food is linked to rising rates of obesity in the world. Still, tips to limit processed foods may seem unnecessary, given their ease of use and the growing range of products falling into this category.
Three recent studies offer more insights into how our increasingly industrialized food supply can affect our health, but they also show how difficult science and nutrition advice can be. Here is what they say.
What does "treaty" mean?
Whether it's curing, freezing, milling or pasteurizing, almost all foods are processed. Even though the treatment itself does not automatically make unhealthy foods, "processed foods" is usually a negative term.
To further identify the processed foods of greatest concern, scientists have developed a system that groups foods into four categories. This is far from perfect, but the system indicates that highly processed foods are mainly composed of ingredients and industrialized additives, with little or no whole foods intact.
Sodas, wrapped cookies, instant noodles and chicken nuggets are examples of highly processed foods. Products that may look healthy, such as breakfast cereals, energy bars and some yogurts, are also included.
What is the problem with processed foods?
Cheap foods are everywhere, including crates, petrol stations and dispensers, and a very small four-week clinical trial could help to better understand why this is likely fueling obesity rates.
Researchers at the National Institutes of Health found that people consumed an average of 500 extra calories a day when they were fed mostly processed foods, compared to those consumed by the same people as food. treated at the slightest transformation. Even though researchers have tried to match meals with nutrients such as fats, fiber and sugar.
The 20 participants were allowed to eat as much or as little as they wanted and were admitted to a clinic so that their health and behavior could be monitored. This is not all bad news.
In another study based on questionnaires, French researchers found that people consuming more processed foods were more likely to have heart disease. A similar study in Spain showed that consumption of more processed foods was linked to a higher risk of death in general.
What about processed foods?
Besides the fact that they are really good to taste, there may be other reasons why it is so difficult to stop eating foods such as cheese puffs and ice creams.
In the clinical trial, people participating in the clinical trial were producing more of a hormone that suppresses appetite and less of a hormone that causes hunger. The reason for the biological reaction is unclear. Another finding is that people eat processed foods faster.
"These foods tend to be softer and easier to chew and swallow," said Kevin Hall, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health who led the study.
Hall noted that the source of nutrients could make a difference. Whole fruit and vegetable fiber, for example, may be more effective at reassuring people than the types of fiber added to packaged foods, such as cookies, yogurts and even sodas.
For the French study, author Mathilde Touvier also pointed out the largely unexplored effects of the "cocktail" of additives used to make the various processed foods we eat.
All three studies have important caveats. The American study was tiny and the behavior of the individuals varied considerably: some ate about the same amount of calories in both diets, others much more in the processed diets.
Meals in both diets were considered equally enjoyable, but Hall noted that it was possible for participants to say what they thought they should do. The diet of processed foods included foods such as salted nuts and whole milk, compared to unsalted nuts and less fat milk for unprocessed diet.
With French and Spanish studies, other habits and environmental factors could explain the differences in health risks. The studies did not reflect the general population either. In the Spanish study, the participants were graduates and relatively younger. And although processed foods are associated with a higher risk of death, the total number of deaths was still relatively low.
What should you eat?
Even without the latest studies, the advice to limit processed foods probably makes sense to most people. Minimally processed foods tend to be richer in nutrients and harder to eat because they are not as widely available and convenient. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to follow these tips, especially if people with little time and money have the opportunity to spend food.
"What frustrates me is that the message" change the way you eat, "without asking why people eat the same way," said Sarah Bowen, a professor at North Carolina State University.
Another challenge is the wide range of processed foods, and one should distinguish between those that could be better or worse as companies continually rethink their products to make them healthier. Thus, while the latest studies may give us more reasons to avoid industrialized foods, they also highlight the difficulty of finding solutions.