The current affairs program Panorama is examining the potential links between ultra-processed foods and the rise in chronic disease. In tonight’s (June 5) documentary, there is an investigation into these convenience foods and how they can affect our health.
The description of the BBC show reads: ‘The UK is grappling with an epidemic of chronic disease, with diabetes rates at record highs and cancers in young people on the rise. Now, there is mounting evidence to suggest this could be linked to the food we eat.
“Ultra-processed convenience foods contain chemicals that UK regulators deem safe, but Panorama is investigating emerging scientific evidence of a link between some of these chemicals and cancer, diabetes and stroke.”
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What are ultra-processed foods?
Foods are divided into four categories: unprocessed or minimally processed; processed ingredients (such as sugar) that are generally not eaten on their own; processed foods; and ultra-processed foods.
Ultra-processed foods typically have five or more ingredients. They consist primarily of substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats, and tend to include many additives and ingredients not typically used in home cooking, such as preservatives, emulsifiers, sweeteners, artificial colors, and artificial flavors. Such foods usually have a long shelf life but are fatty, sugary, salty, low in fiber, and have little or no nutritional value.
Examples of these foods are crisps, chips, cookies, cakes, pies, cereals, candy bars, instant soups, ice cream, ham, sausages, commercially produced breads, sodas, fruit yoghurts, and some alcoholic beverages including whisky, gin and rum.
Some ultra-processed foods are better for us than others. Whole grain breads, whole grains and baked beans have more nutritional benefits than other things in this category. You can also make simple changes like buying plain yogurt and adding chunks of fresh, frozen, or dried fruit. Similarly, opt for porridge oats rather than sugary processed cereals.
What are the health risks of ultra-processed foods?
By eating ultra-processed foods, we deprive the body of a more nutritious diet. There are also suggestions that the additives in these foods could have adverse effects on our bodies.
The NHS says these foods can lead people to eat more than the recommended amounts of sugar, salt and fat. And by taking in more calories due to high amounts of added sugar or fat, you’re at risk for weight gain that leads to obesity.
NHS Wales said a review reported in the British Medical Journal found that ‘a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with a significantly increased risk of 12% in overall cancer risk and 11 per cent percent in breast cancer risk.Some studies have previously suggested that ultra-processed foods contribute to an increased risk of cardiometabolic disorders such as obesity, hypertension, and dyslipidemia.
The British Heart Foundation says several studies have shown links between consuming high amounts of ultra-processed foods and the risk of heart disease and death – and that the more you eat, the higher your risk. Consuming ultra-processed foods is also believed to affect our gut bacteria, now known to be so important to our overall health.
* Panorama: Ultra-Processed Food: A Recipe for Ill Health? it’s Monday 5 June at 8pm on BBC One
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