You are what you eat. Most of us know that eating well is the formula to living better, and longer but unfortunately, busy lifestyles often push us to go for the easier option – ultra processed foods.
A study by Northeastern University’s Network Science Institute found that ultra-processed foods make up 73% of the US food supply. Another research  published in 2022 examined US secular trends in food consumption according to processing level from 2001 to 2018 found that ultra-processed foods make up nearly 60% of what a typical adult in the US eats.
That is concerning. Especially when we start looking into the link between ultra-processed food and heart disease, heart attack and stroke.
In fact, at the recent European Society of Cardiology Congress in Amsterdam, two studies presented showed that ultra-processed food significantly raises the risk of high blood pressure, heart problems, and stroke.
What are ultra-processed foods and why are they bad?
Ultra-processed foods are not just the frozen meals. Cookies, jarred sauces, and even ice creams are considered ultra-processed food due to the sheer amount of preservatives and chemical additives added to extend shelf life.
In addition to preservatives and chemicals, ultra-processed food are also high in salt, fat, and added sugar. These ingredients, when regularly consumed and in large quantities, are linked with poor health outcome.
To investigate the link between obesity, diabetes and ultra processed foods, Kevin Hall, a senior investigator at the National Institutes of Health, recruited 20 healthy adult volunteers to stay at an NIH facility for a four-week period. Participants were split them into two groups. The first group was put on an ultra-processed diet for two weeks, and the second group on an unprocessed food diet which is made up of fruits, vegetables and unprocessed meats. The groups switched diet after a two week cycle. While both groups were given food of similar calories, it was observed, at the end of four week studies, that participants consumed more calories when they were on the ultra processed food diet, leading to weight gain. Participants were also found to lose weight during the two weeks of unprocessed food diet.
The mental price you pay for convenience
Unfortunately, the detrimental effects of ultra processed food are not limited to just physical health.
A research done in 2022  to look into the association between consumption of ultra processed foods and cognitive decline. The research spanned over 10 years, and it was observed that the decline in cognitive functions is accelerated by 28 percent in people who consume more than 20 percent of their calories from ultra processed food.
Let’s eat well – Making conscious food choices
Accessibility to ultra processed foods, coupled with the lack of time due to our hectic lifestyles make it harder for us to opt for healthier food options. Good news is, not all convenience foods are bad! Steam-in-bag fresh and frozen vegetables, whole-grain chips, curry pastes, frozen seafood, canned tuna are some examples of convenience food that you can go for if you do not have the luxury of time!
If you’re unsure about the food, going through the product labels can help you identify if the food is ultra-processed. Some clear indicators of ultra processed food is the presence of additives, or chemical names that you are not likely to find in a home kitchen!
Remember, you still can eat well even if you do not have the time to cook a meal from scratch. Read the labels, make careful choices, and opt for healthier snacks like whole-grain chips instead of sweets when you feel like you need to munch on something to give you energy during an afternoon slump!
About Dr Adrian Mondry
Dr Adrian Mondry is a Hypertension Specialist accredited by the German Hypertension League in Singapore. He was previously a senior consultant in the department of medicine at the National University Hospital and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH), Dr Mondry has more than 30 years of experience in the field of internal medicine.
Dr Adrian Mondry is recognised for his leadership and contributions in establishing the dedicated hypertension clinic within the National University Health System and fast-track deep vein thrombosis service at NTFGH.
Dr Adrian Mondry is fluent in English, German and French.
About Kaizen Medical
Kaizen Medical is located at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, Suite 11-57.
At Kaizen, we provide in depth health care to patients with multi-organs diseases; tackling undifferentiated presentations that cannot be easily assigned to a single organ.