- Increasing consumption of “ultra-processed” food may heighten the risk for type 2 diabetes. The research found that every 10% increase in the consumption of such foods may come with a 15% increased risk of developing the disease.
- “Ultra-processed” foods are defined as pre-packaged products that have undergone extensive industrial transformations and contain ingredients such as preservatives, artificial flavors, food additives, sugars, non-sugar sweeteners, and coloring.
- Examples of ultra-processed foods include instant noodles, chicken nuggets, soft drinks, pastries, breakfast cereals, and ‘health products’ like powdered or fortified meals.
- Aside from poor nutritional value, ultra-processed foods might contribute to diabetic trends due to harmful chemical compounds that disrupt metabolic processes. Packaging materials from these foods could also be problematic.
- For a healthier diet, consider curating 75% of your meal plan with plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and the remaining quarter with lean proteins and low-fat dairy products. High-fat and high-sugar foods should be chosen after consuming healthier options, rather than in place of them.
Imagine those easily reachable chicken nuggets, jelly donuts, and energy bars from your local grocery store. They provide quick satisfaction, yes, but a new comprehensive study suggests that indulging in too many of these and other highly processed foods may expose you to a heightened risk for type 2 diabetes.
Findings from a French study reveal that every 10% increase in the consumption of “ultra-processed” food may come with a 15% increase in the risk for developing diabetes.
What are Ultra-Processed Foods?
The research’s lead author, Bernard Srour, and his team have previously found a correlation between higher ingestion of ultra-processed food and an elevated risk for serious ailments like cancer, heart disease, depression, and even premature death.
But how do we define ultra-processed foods? Srour depicts them as pre-packaged products subjected to extensive industrial transformations. Such items can include preservatives, artificial flavors, texture modifiers, food additives, sugars, non-sugar sweeteners, and coloring.
Examples of Ultra-Processed Foods
Srour provides examples such as instant noodles, chicken nuggets, soft drinks, candies, margarine, pastries, breakfast cereals, and energy bars. Additionally, foods like flavored milk, pre-seasoned vegetables, ‘instant’ sauces, ready-to-heat pizzas, and powdered or fortified meals disguised as ‘health’ products can also fall under this category.
Srour’s team notes that such convenience foods are popular across Western developed nations, making up between 25 and 60% of the modern diet. Meanwhile, type 2 diabetes is becoming a major public health issue. It is estimated that in 2017, around 425 million people worldwide had diabetes – a number projected to rise to 629 million by 2045.
Why Ultra-Processed Foods May Fuel Diabetes
Why might ultra-processed foods be amplifying these worrying diabetic trends? The authors suggest it’s not just due to the low nutritional value from high levels of fats, salt, and sugar. The answer may also lie in harmful chemical compounds that disrupt and degrade the metabolic process. Packaging materials could also be problematic, they noted.
For this study, dietary records of almost 105,000 French adults between 2009 and 2019 were analyzed. The research found a significant connection between the high consumption of ultra-processed foods and a higher risk for diabetes.
However, it’s important to consider that higher intakes of ultra-processed foods were generally seen among smokers, the obese, less active participants, and those who consumed more red and processed meats and fewer whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Therefore, other negative lifestyle habits could be fueling diabetes risk as well.
Connie Diekman, a food and nutrition consultant, and past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, urges us to view these findings in context. As she points out, while the word ‘processed’ has become the new ‘food villain,’ in reality, all food is processed in some form or the other. Therefore, it’s not the processing, but the food choices we make that matter.
How to Choose Better
Diekman suggests curating 75% of your meal plan with plant foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and the remaining quarter with lean proteins and low-fat dairy products. She also advocates using plant-based fats like canola, olive, soy, or sunflower oils and advises that high-fat and high-sugar foods should be chosen after consuming healthier options, rather than in place of them.
To learn more about reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, consider visiting the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Their website offers effective strategies for preventing type 2 diabetes.