Highly Processed Foods Again Linked with Obesity, Disease

Additive laden, highly processed foods–or more accurately, “non-food foods” where the amount of synthetic or industrialized chemical additives significantly outweigh the amount of natural whole food ingredients–have once again been linked with rising U.S. obesity and disease rates.

The food chemical/additive link

Previous scientific studies on food additives and health problems have revealed numerous culprits linked to obesity, digestive/intestinal disorders, depression, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, kidney and thyroid disorders, diabetes, cancer and more. These include a variety of emulsifiers*, preservatives, dyes and flavor additives. In the current review report, emulsifiers took center stage and were highly correlated with obesity and disease:

In mice and in vitro trials, emulsifiers, found in processed foods, have been found to alter microbiome compositions, elevate fasting blood glucose, cause hyperphagia, increase weight gain and adiposity, and induce hepatic steatosis. Recent human trials have linked ultra-processed foods to decreased satiety (fullness), increased meal eating rates (speed), worsening biochemical markers, including inflammation and cholesterol, and more weight gain. In contrast, populations with low meat, high fiber, and minimally processed foods — the “blue zones” — have far less chronic diseases, obesity rates, and live longer disease-free.

*Emulsifiers are synthetic or industrialized chemical additives most typically used in processed foods as thickeners, preservatives, texturizers and to prevent clumping, lumping or separation of ingredients.

food additive emulsifiers are cancer promoters

Types of highly/ultra processed foods with strongest link to obesity and disease:

The rising obesity epidemic in the U.S., as well as related chronic diseases, are correlated with a rise in ultra-processed food consumption. The foods most associated with weight gain include potato chips, sugar sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, refined grains, red meats, and processed meats, while lower weight gain or even weight loss is associated with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Other food trends outlined in the report include insufficient dietary fiber intake, a dramatic increase in food additives like emulsifiers and gums, and a higher prevalence of obesity, particularly in women.


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Journal Reference: Janese Laster, Leigh A. Frame. Beyond the Calories—Is the Problem in the Processing? Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology, 2019; 17 (4): 577 DOI: 10.1007/s11938-019-00246-1