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Science News: How big of a risk are ultra-processed foods to our health?

– K.J., Senior Editor

The impact of diet on quality of life has been a major public health concern not only in Japan but in the global community. Thus, extensive research is being conducted to evaluate how the type and quantity of foods we eat impact our health. Let’s look at a specific subset of foods that have become more prevalent in our diet: ultra-processed foods.

When we say “ultra-processed foods”, we are referring to products that have been obtained from food-derived substances that are enhanced with artificial additives such as colors and flavors to make them more durable and appealing. Some examples of these are soft drinks, instant noodles and breakfast cereals. These products, which have been engineered to have better look and taste compared to less-processed and healthier foods, can lead to cravings and even addiction.

Ultra-processed foods also tend to have high salt, sugar and fat content, and previous research has shown a link between ultra-processed foods and obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. But what about cancer risk? A longitudinal study conducted by Imperial College London published in 2023 showed a link between high consumption of ultra-processed foods and overall cancer, specifically ovarian and brain cancers.

Furthermore, consuming these foods can also affect brain health. A study published in Neurology in 2022 discovered a 25% higher risk of dementia for every 10% increase in daily consumption of ultra-processed foods. As research will undoubtedly continue to show the poor health outcomes associated with ultra-processed food consumption, increasing public awareness and encouraging healthy eating will be necessary to improve our health.

Click here for the Japanese version.

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