As supported by the below evidence, a resounding consensus has built among the healthcare community that the heavily processed foods that make up the Western diet have created today's environment where metabolic, cardiovascular, and autoimmune diseases thrive. Not all processed foods are unhealthy, but healthy diets emphasize whole foods that have gone through minimal processing.
'Developed societies, although having successfully reduced the burden of infectious disease, constitute an environment where metabolic, cardiovascular, and autoimmune diseases thrive. Living in westernized countries has not fundamentally changed the genetic basis on which these diseases emerge, but has strong impact on lifestyle and pathogen exposure. In particular, nutritional patterns collectively termed the “Western diet”, including high-fat and cholesterol, high-protein, high-sugar, and excess salt intake, as well as frequent consumption of processed and ‘fast foods’, promote obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. These factors have also gained high interest as possible promoters of autoimmune diseases.'
A 2016 study of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data found 'ultra-processed foods' as defined as formulations of several ingredients make up ~60% of all foods and contribute almost 90% of energy intake from added sugars. The study concluded 'cutting back on the consumption of ultra-processed foods could be an effective way of curbing excessive added sugar intake in the US, conclude the researchers' .
A 2014 study found high consumption of ultra-processed foods had a positve correlation with intake of sodium and cholesterol and a negative correlation with fiber intake .
A 2015 review of trends in obesity and consumption of ultra-processed foods found the consumption of ultra-processed products (i.e. foods with low nutritional value but high energy density) has increased dramatically in Sweden since 1960, which mirrors the increased prevalence of obesity .
A 2015 cohort study of 345 Brazilian children concluded "early ultra-processed product consumption played a role in altering lipoprotein profiles in children from a low-income community in Brazil. These results are important to understanding the role of food processing and the early dietary determinants of cardiovascular disease" .
A 2013 review of data from 5,000+ Canadian household found food consumption was dominated by ultra-processed products. The paper concluded "As a group, these products are unhealthy. The present analysis indicates that any substantial improvement of the diet would involve much lower consumption of ultra-processed products and much higher consumption of meals and dishes prepared from minimally processed foods and processed culinary ingredients" .
A 2011 study of 40,000 Brazilian households found from 1987 to 2003 ultra-processed foods steadily replaced minimally processed foods. The replaced food contained on average more added sugar, more saturated fat, more sodium, less fiber and much higher energy density. The paper concluded "governments and health authorities should use all possible methods, including legislation and statutory regulation, to halt and reverse the replacement of minimally processed foods and processed culinary ingredients by ultra-processed food products" .
A 2011 review of data from 120,000+ participants in the Nurses' Health Study found strong positive associations with weight change were seen for starches, refined grains, and processed foods .
A 2012 study of 210 adolescents found high consumption of ulta-processed foods was associated with the prevalence of metabolic syndrome .
A 2016 review of 98 ready-to-eat foods found the more a food is processed the higher its glycemic index and the lower its satiety potential .
A 2013 UN review discussed the responsibility of ultra-processed food companies in driving global epidemics of non-communicable diseases .
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