Mind and Body

Six ways processed foods wreak havoc on the body

Chicken nuggets taste so good... why do they have to be so bad?

Shutterstock

Colin Hawkins/DigitalVision/Getty Images

If you are what you eat, the vast majority of us are not plain vegetables.

Shutterstock

Many of the foods we consume are processed in some way, and that doesn’t mean they’re all bad.

However, there’s one category that comes under extra scrutiny: ultra-processed foods.

Shutterstock

These foods tend to have excessive amounts of sugar, salt, food coloring, and other additives.

Shutterstock

Think of things like:

- Snack cakes

- Chicken nuggets

- Bologna

- Bacon

- Soda

- White bread

- Flavored granola bars

- Candy

- Sweetened breakfast cereal

- Instant noodles and soups

To be fair, sometimes ultra-processed foods are your only option.

They’re easy to prepare on busy days, generally don’t cost much, and are available just about everywhere. Many are fortified, too, so you’re not completely missing out on essential nutrients.

Kittipong Satrinekarn / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Shutterstock

But study after study shows there are long-term health consequences to packing your diet with too many ultra-processed meals and snacks.

Here are 6 ways ultra-processed foods damage the body and mind:

Shutterstock

6. They mess with your appetite

You can probably blame your gut for the reason you still feel hungry after pounding an entire box of Twinkies.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Though the reasons aren’t entirely clear, researchers have observed higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and lower levels of the huger-suppressing hormone PYY in people who consumed ultra-processed diets.

5. They encourage overeating

Some data shows ultra-processed foods actually cause people to consume more.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

A 2019 study in the journal Cell Metabolism found that people consume way more calories on ultra-processed diets as opposed to minimally-processed ones.

They also gain more weight along the way.

4. They raise your risk factors

Ultra-processed foods are linked to an increased risk of a slew of conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and obesity.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

In a 2020 scientific review in the journal Nutrients, 37 of the 43 studies the researchers analyzed associated ultra-processed food consumption with at least one adverse health effect.

3. They make death more likely

To make matters worse, a 2020 study found that people who eat lots of processed foods are 26 percent more likely to die from any cause.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Heart conditions like cardiovascular disease or stroke were among the most common that study participants who consumed lots of ultra-processed foods experienced.

2. They damage brain health

Processed meat is linked to a higher risk of dementia, as explained in a 2021 study.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

Researchers followed study participants for an average of 8 years, finding that people who ate more meats like sausages, ham, and bacon, saw a 44 percent increase in their risk of developing dementia.

1. They negatively influence mental health

A 2020 study found that increased intake of ultra-processed foods correlates with an increase in depression symptoms.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

People who got less exercise in addition to their ultra-processed food intake were more likely to show more depression symptoms, as well.