Ultra-Processed Foods: What They Are and What They Can Do To Your Body

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Is an easy, fast food meal really that harmful to your body? What about a quick snack binge in the kitchen? Research shows they may pose more danger than you think!

According to a 2022 study published by The British Medical Journal, ultra-processed foods commonly available at fast food drive-thru windows or in the snack aisle of your local grocery store have the potential to cause major bodily damage in young adults, including colorectal cancer.

What is Ultra-Processed Food Anyway?

Food manufacturers develop flavor-packed concoctions that are all but guaranteed to produce powerful cravings for the masses. These are then subjected to multiple processes that change the food's appearance, taste, or texture. The result is unnatural and ultra-processed foods that are loaded with large amounts of unhealthy ingredients, including:

  • Salt
  • Sugar
  • Oil
  • Artificial Flavors, Colors, Sweeteners, Stabilizers
  • Preservatives

So Why Are Ultra-Processed Foods Bad for Me?

Did you know that almost 60% of Americans’ calorie intake is from ultra-processed foods? This means most of our pantries are filled with hyper-palatable treats that promote compulsive snacking habits.

While the occasional small indulgences are okay, studies warn that frequent consumption of ultra-processed food is linked to various chronic diseases like:

  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Heart Disease
  • Colon Cancer

A recent study found that young adults were at high risk for colorectal cancer. At significant risk were men and women ages 24-28 who consumed an abundance of ultra-processed foods, especially prepackaged, ready-to-eat meals and sugary beverages. In fact, the study suggests that men lead the pack with a 29% higher risk of colon cancer.

Out With The Bad – In With The Good!

We hate to be the bearer of bad news here. Even though they are convenient, many of our favorite convenient meals and snacks are actually ultra-processed foods, including:

  • Frozen Pizza
  • Boxed Mac & Cheese
  • Cheese Crackers
  • Prepacked Cookies
  • Microwave Meals
  • French Fries

The best way to reduce your ultra-processed food intake is to stop buying pre-packaged, ready-to-eat foods. The good news is there are many foods available that are just as tasty (or even better!) and are healthy for you to boot!

Here’s a quick list of healthier substitutions:

  • Instead of frozen chicken nuggets, try baking your own lightly breaded chicken nuggets at home.
  • Rather than buying sweetened, fruit-flavored yogurt, buy plain yogurt and add fresh berries and honey.
  • Swap the sugary drinks and sodas for sparkling water or tea. Add a squirt of lemon or lime to enhance the flavor.

Need more guidance when grocery shopping?

Try this helpful website that was developed by two scientists at Northeastern University. This site gives you instant nutritional label information and brand suggestions on the healthiest choices available.

How To Be Proactive With Your Health

Ultra-processed foods are everywhere, but making healthier diet choices is an easy way to avoid the serious side effects associated with consuming processed foods.

Talk With a Registered Dietitian

Proper nutrition is essential for your health and well-being. However, the nutritional needs of each individual can be very different. If you’d like to take a focused approach to nutrition that can help treat and prevent chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer, consider meeting with one of Archbold’s registered dietitians.

Schedule Annual Visits With Your Primary Care Provider

You can be proactive with your health by scheduling annual visits with your primary care physician.

Get Screened For Colorectal Cancer

The American Cancer Society recommends that you schedule annual colorectal cancer screenings beginning at age 45. To learn more about scheduling a screening colonoscopy with an Archbold gastroenterologist, click here.


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