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UltraProcessed Foods

What is ultra-processed Foods?

products made from manufactured ingredients that have been extracted from foods, processed, then reassembled to create shelf-stable, tasty and convenient meals.

Risk Factors:

Ultra-processed foods currently make up nearly 60% of what the typical adult eats, and nearly 70% of what kids eat.

"Four of the top six killers are related to an inadequate diet, which in the U.S. is probably largely due to convenient, safe, inexpensive food that we eat too much of," says Christopher Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at Stanford University, who has spent decades studying the links between diet and chronic disease. "Too much of it leads to obesity and type two diabetes and heart disease and cancer."

Why worry about ultra-processed foods?

One reason ultra-processed foods likely contribute to health issues seems obvious: They tend to be low in fiber and high in calories, salt, added sugar and fat, which are all linked with poor health outcomes when eaten in excess.

But back in 2009, researchers in Brazil proposed that it wasn't just the nutrients that made these foods unhealthy, but rather, that the extent of processing these foods undergo.

Gardner sits on the independent advisory committee that reviews scientific evidence and makes recommendations that will inform the development of the next iteration of the U.S. dietary guidelines to be issued in 2025. He says ultra-processed foods are one of the issues they're considering. Some countries, including Brazil, Peru and Uruguay, have dietary guidelines that specifically recommend freshly prepared meals and avoiding ultra-processed foods.

Ultimately, Zhang says the burden of making healthier food choices shouldn't fall solely on consumers – especially when it comes to setting kids up for better health long term.

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