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Zone Living

Breaking down the latest research on Anti-Inflammatory Nutrition
Written By: Dr. Barry Sears, Ph. D | Creator of the Zone Diet

Written by Kristin Sears
on May 04, 2023

With the increase in natural foods lately, I've been ruminating on a topic that's got my stomach in knots: the industrialization of food and its negative effects on our population. While we all love the convenience of easy, processed foods, (especially in these inflated times) it's time to face the cold, hard facts - they might be doing a number on our health. Let's take a closer look at the dark side of processed foods, and how we can start chowing down on some healthier, more nutritious options. Are you ready to get your nosh on and join me for this culinary adventure to healthier eating?  

What Draws Consumers to Ultra-Processed Foods  

Ultra-Processed Foods (UPFs) are a category of processed foods that typically contain many added sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial additives. They are often low in fiber and essential nutrients and are designed to be convenient and easy to consume.   

UPFs have become ubiquitous in many places for several reasons:  

1. Convenience: UPFs are designed to be quick and easy to prepare, making them a convenient option for busy individuals who don't have time to cook or prepare meals from scratch.  
2. Cost: UPFs are often cheaper than whole, minimally processed foods, making them an attractive option for people on a tight budget.  
3. Shelf-life: UPFs have a long shelf-life and can be stored for extended periods without spoiling. This makes them a popular choice for consumers who want to stock up on food without having to worry about spoilage or waste.  
4. Taste: Many UPFs are highly palatable, thanks to the addition of sugar, salt, and fat. This can make them more appealing to consumers than less processed or unprocessed foods.  
5. Marketing: The food industry invests heavily in marketing UPFs, using persuasive techniques to make them seem more attractive to consumers. This includes using colorful packaging, catchy slogans, and celebrity endorsements.  

In short, UPFs are cheaper to make and more convenient for the consumer, and their taste can be manipulated to increase their desirability.  

The Expense to Children’s Health  

As industrialization and globalization of food production continue to grow, so do the rates of picky eating and health issues associated with processed foods. The convenience and accessibility of pre-packaged, processed foods have made them a staple in many households. However, the downsides of consuming these foods regularly far outweigh any benefits they may provide.   

Industrialization of food induces strong reinforcing changes in brain chemistry. In addition, many of the important nutrients in food such as polyphenols and fermentable fiber have been removed. Hence natural food seems strange in comparison to industrialized food, turning children into pickier eaters. However, the lack of these nutrients plays havoc with the microbes in the gut generating more inflammation that show up as increased obesity and food allergies.  

Regardless of income, children are eating more industrialized food due to lower cost, greater convenience, and brain conditioning that makes it difficult to wean themselves from such a diet. The lack of time to prepare natural food only intensifies the trend. Eating a diet high in processed foods can negatively impact their growth, development, and cognitive abilities.   

The Expense to Your Health  

There are seral downsides to the over-consumption of UPFs. Here’s my take on the largest issues:  

Chemical contaminants: UPFs are often made with chemicals that have been linked to cancer, such as acrylamide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These chemicals can form during the manufacturing process and are more prevalent in UPFs than in minimally processed or unprocessed foods. Exposure to these chemicals over time may increase the risk of certain types of cancer, including ovarian and brain cancer.  

Disruption of hormonal balance: Some UPFs contain added hormones, such as estrogen, which can disrupt the body's natural hormonal balance. Disruptions in hormonal balance have been linked to an increased risk of ovarian cancer.  

Inflammation: UPFs are often high in added sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial additives, which can promote inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including brain cancer.  


The Worst Types of UPFs   

Those UPFs that use artificial sweeteners can cause considerable damage to the gut microbiome, thus increasing the likelihood of increased inflammation caused by a leaky gut.  

Sweetened beverages: Sugary drinks, such as soda, fruit juice, and sports drinks, are a major source of added sugars in the diet. High consumption of sugary drinks has been linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including pancreatic and colorectal cancer.  
Processed meats: Processed meats, such as bacon, sausage, and deli meats, are high in sodium and often contain added preservatives and nitrates. High consumption of processed meats has been linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.  
Snack foods: Snack foods, such as chips, crackers, and cookies, are often high in salt, sugar, and fat. High consumption of these foods has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and other health problems.  
Fast food: Fast food is often high in calories, sodium, and unhealthy fats. High consumption of fast food has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, and other health problems.  
Breakfast cereals: Many types of breakfast cereals are high in sugar and often contain added preservatives and artificial colors. High consumption of these cereals has been linked to an increased risk of several types of cancer, including colorectal cancer.  

Overall, the elevated levels of sugar, fat, and salt found in many types of UPFs are thought to be the primary reason they may be more dangerous than other types of foods.  


How to spot UPFs and other unhealthy foods  

Identifying UPFs can be challenging since they are often disguised as healthy or minimally processed foods. Here are a few tips for identifying UPFs and making healthier choices:  

Check the ingredient list: UPFs are often made with a long list of ingredients, many of which are artificial additives, preservatives, or sweeteners. Look for foods with short ingredient lists and ingredients that you recognize.  
Look for whole foods: Choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. These foods are less likely to be processed and contain more nutrients than UPFs.  
Avoid foods with added sugars: UPFs are often high in added sugars, which can contribute to weight gain, diabetes, and other health problems. Look for foods with no added sugars or natural sweeteners, such as honey or maple syrup.  
Beware of packaging claims: Many UPFs are marketed as "healthy" or "natural" but are still highly processed. Read the nutrition label and ingredient list to determine if a food is truly healthy.  

When in doubt, remember, “The longer the label, the more processed the food is.”  

By making mindful choices about what we eat, we can promote good health and well-being for ourselves and future generations. Don't be afraid to try new foods, experiment with healthy recipes, and find ways to enjoy a balanced and nutritious diet that works for you. Your body will thank you for it!  

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