5 Consequences of Excessive Consumption of Ultra-processed Foods

13 March, 2021
Ultra-processed foods contain a series of ingredients that can become harmful for health and the function of various organs in the human body if we eat them in excess. Learn some of the risks here.

Over the last few decades, the food industry has entered our homes to make things a little easier when it comes to eating. Lack of time and the fact that these foods are easy to make and are tasty are the main reasons why we resort to this kind of food. However, what effect does excess consumption of ultra-processed foods have on our health?

First, we should remember that a healthy diet is varied and contains fresh foods. Frequently turning to mass-produced products can bring negative consequences, as you’ll see below.

Consequences of an excess of ultra-processed foods

Overall, we can put foods into the following categories:

  • Unprocessed or minimally processed foods like fruit, vegetables, milk, meat, pulses, seeds, cereals, eggs.
  • Foods that have been modified so they can last longer or taste better, generally with salt, oil, sugar, or fermentation. They include yogurts, cheese, ham, homemade bread, fruits, vegetables, and pulses in jars, smoked or canned fish, beer, and wine.
  • Ultra-processed foods, that have been subjected to synthetic industrial processes or substances from other foods. These often have a long list of ingredients on their labels. These include preservatives, sweeteners, or color/taste enhancers. In this group, we can find processed meats like sausages and hamburgers, breakfast cereals or bars, sauces, instant soups, sugary carbonated drinks, chicken nuggets, pastries, chocolate, ice cream, cakes, mass-produced bread. Also, we have many “ready to heat” foods.

How does the consumption of ultra-processed foods affect our health?

Overall, the majority of these products have several of the following in their composition:

  • High-calorie content: normally, these are empty calories; many calories with little-to-no nutrients.
  • Hydrogenized or trans fats: the food industry generates these fats mainly to slash the price of the product and make it tastier.
  • Sugar: these products usually contain added sugars, that aren’t only present in pastries. We can find them in sauces, and meat products, etc. This ingredient has demonstrated that it’s able to cause obesity and metabolic problems, which is why you would limit your consumption.
  • Salt: salt can lengthen the life of a product, in addition to making it hyper-palatable.
  • Refined flours and oils: refined flours and oils are subjected to the industrial process. At this point, the vitamins and minerals are extracted.
  • Additives: these are similar to preservatives, sweeteners, and enhancers, etc. Some of these, like sweeteners, are capable of causing unfavorable changes in the composition of the intestinal microbiota compounds, according to a study published in Current Gastroenterology Reports.

Keep reading: Optimize Your Lungs by Adding These Food Items to Your Diet

overweight on the scales; obese; excess ultra-processed foods

1. Over-weight and obesity

One of the main health problems that excessive consumption of ultra-processed foods causes is an increase in body fat. In turn, this leads to the individual suffering from being overweight or obese.

According to WHO, in recent years the number of cases of overweight or obese individuals has tripled. In 2016 1900 million 18-year-olds suffered from being overweight. Of these, 650 million were clinically obese. As if that wasn’t enough, in 2016 there were 41 million children around the world suffering from obesity or being overweight.

In fact, the University of Navarra (Universidad de Navarra) conducted a study that evaluated 8451 university students at a normal weight. That’s because this is the demographic that usually consumes the most ultra-processed foods.

During the study, 1939 students began to suffer from being overweight or obese due to the excessive consumption of ultra-processed foods.

2. Cardiovascular illnesses

An increase in weight causes a higher risk of suffering from cardiovascular illnessessuch as hypertension, arteriosclerosis. myocardial heart attacks, or strokes.

Also, excessive consumption of salt, present in ultra-processed foods, increases the probability of suffering cardiovascular illnesses.

In fact, the same can be said for monosodium glutamate, an additive that enhances the taste. According to several studies, excessive consumption of this causes weight gain, oxidative stress, memory defects, and epilepsy.

3. Diabetes Mellitus type 2

Next, if we habitually consume ultra-processed foods, normally rich in sugars, we may make ourselves diabetic.

For example, consuming 7.05 ounces of sugar a day will cause insulin levels to skyrocket and glucose won’t be able to enter the cells. Thus, it creates a change on a metabolic level that can lead to insulin resistance.

You may also be interested in: Excessive Salt or Sugar Intake: Which is Worse for Your Health?

4. High cholesterol

Also, another consequence of consuming an excess of ultra-processed foods would be the increase of cholesterol levels in our blood. This is not only because of the fat present in these products, as many people believe, but also because of the sugar.

Continuing from the explanation above, insulin resistance means that the cells can’t open themselves to it, and as a result, glucose begins to accumulate in the arteries.

Thus, this then means high glucose levels in the blood, which results in hypertension, increased triglycerides, decreased HDL cholesterol, and increased LDL.

table of processed meats; consequences of ultra-processed foods
Sausages are a clear example of processed and ultra-processed foods. These foods can affect our health when we consume them in excess.

5. Cancer

Unfortunately, eating ultra-processed foods can raise your risk of developing cancer. After all, the less healthy we eat, the more likely it is that we’ll develop cancer.

Reduce your consumption of ultra-processed foods

Overall, we can see that all of these illnesses are related to others and that one of their causes is excessive consumption of ultra-processed foods. If also, we subscribe to a sedentary lifestyle, it’s a lethal combination.

However, it’s important to stay informed about the nutritional characteristics of foods. It’s also important to change our unhealthy lifestyle habits. After all, ultra-processed foods are here to stay, and we should learn to select them and costume them responsibly to avoid excess.

  • Ruanpeng D., Thongprayoon C., Cheungpasitporn W., Harindhanavudhi T., Sugar and artificially sweetened beverages linked to obesity: a systematic review and meta analysis. QJM, 2017. 110 (8): 513-520.
  • Pearlman M., Obert J., Casey L., The association between artificial sweeteners and obesity. Curr Gastroenterol Rep, 2017. 19 (12): 64.
  • Andrade C., Ultraprocessed food and cardiovascular risk: estimating the number needed to harm in an unfamiliar situation. Indian J Psychol Med, 2019. 41 (5): 501-502.