Ultra-processed food could cost you your health

It’s impossible to argue with the health benefits of fresh, whole food. After all, it’s where all the good stuff comes from—the most natural source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants there is.


But here’s the thing: A truly healthy diet doesn’t just mean eating more of the good stuff. It also means eating less of the bad stuff. And in today’s food supply, identifying the “bad stuff” can be tricky.


Modern supermarkets are packed with processed and packaged foods. (Many of which feature supposedly healthy labels like “whole grain” and “low calorie” and “sugar free.”) And sure, these options may be fast and convenient.


But as research shows, time and again, they’re not doing your body any favors at all…    


Processed food is potentially lethal


Earlier this year, the British Medical Journal published a meta-analysis of the links between ultra-processed foods and adverse health outcomes.


What are “ultra-processed” foods? Well, consider the layout of your typical supermarket: The packaged, boxed, and bagged offerings you’re likely to find in the center aisles are the main offenders here. They also happen to make up the majority of the typical American grocery haul.


Think refined bread products, sugary drinks, cookies, cereal, chips, crackers, and other packaged snacks—in other words, fast food. Whether it comes from a drive-thru or the freezer section, these items have one thing in common: They’re usually packed with salt, sugar, fat, and calories… and deficient in the micro-nutrients your body needs to thrive.


Another thing ultra-processed food is packed with? Chemicals and additives—which you’ll usually find listed on ingredient labels in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors and colors, hydrogenated oils and trans fats, hydrolyzed protein, emulsifiers, and thickeners. All intended to keep food both shelf-stable and highly consumable. (Yes, junk food has been specifically engineered to encourage overeating.)  


It’s no wonder, then, that researchers found direct associations between greater consumption of ultra-processed foods and increased risk of not just obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, but also depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and death by any cause, including cancer.


In other words, a diet packed with processed foods is lethal, any way you slice it.


Packaging is a part of the problem


Additives aren’t the only concern that ultra-processed food presents. The packaging it comes in is also a serious problem.


Reports show widespread contamination with chemicals like bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in packaged supermarket and fast foods. These chemicals make their way into food from coated cardboard and plastic packaging, and needless to say, they’re just as harmful.


These toxins, which can persist in the body for long periods of time, have established links to hormone disruption, immune suppression, and increased cancer risk, among other dangers. But minimizing your exposure to them can be simple with a little extra vigilance.


Luckily, the Environmental Working Group has consumers covered in this department, too. And in addition to their Dirty Dozen guide to pesticides in produce, they also have a Dirty Dozen guide to food chemicals.


The bottom line? Clean eating might require a trade-off in convenience. But it could also add years to your life—and it’s hard to imagine a better bargain than that.


Until next time,

The XY Wellness Team