You may want to think twice before grabbing that bag of chips for your mid-day snack. While it’s not necessarily news that processed foods are detrimental to your health, new research is helping to further explain the adverse health risks behind the consumption of ultra-processed foods. Following the publishing of two new papers in the BMJ, researchers found that the more processed the food is, the more likely a person is to get sick, and even die in some cases.

“The public should avoid these foods as much as they can,” said Mathilde Touvier, a member of the French research team, “We need to go back to more basic diets.”

To conduct the study, researchers split more than 105,000 people into quartiles based on the amount of ultra-processed foods in their diets. According to the study, ultra-processed foods were defined as, “ready-to-consume, hyper-palatable food and drink products using flavors, colors, and other additives in the likes of packaged breads, soda, frozen meals, and sugary packaged snacks.” Dietary data was then tracked from the start of the study and during the first two years of follow-up for each patient.

The results? Researchers found that people with a diet comprised mainly of ultra-processed foods ate 500 more calories per day than those whose diets included minimally processed, whole foods. In addition, the greater the percentage of processed foods in the patient’s diet, the higher their risk was for cardiovascular disease.

Why This Matters – 

While the study included a handful of key findings, what stood out most to some was a new, intriguing hypothesis that offers a potential answer to the question of whether or not ultra-processed foods actually prime us to overeat, which leads us to bad health.

One Vox article found that scientists are increasingly thinking that processed foods may be formulated in a way that disturbs the gut microbiome – trillions of diverse bacteria that line our intestines and colon. These disturbances may heighten our risk for chronic disease which, in turn, encourages overeating.

While researchers still have quite a way to go before they’re able to pinpoint a conclusive answer, one thing is clear – regulation is needed around the consumption of ultra-processed foods. Understanding the risks of inaction, some lawmakers in other countries are calling for increased regulation that includes taxing the purchase of such foods and regulating the marketing around them.

“If we try to answer every question about these products, we’ll never regulate them. And given the mounting evidence of harm, delayed action increasingly looks like it’ll cost health dollars and lives,” wrote Julia Belluz, Vox’s senior health correspondent.

About the Author:

Khye Tucker is an Innovation Strategist in Columbus, OH. With a passion for writing and a background in communications, Khye strives to bring brand stories to life through a fresh perspective, innovative thinking and creative storytelling.