The headline would seem to be a no-brainer. Eat real food instead of “junk food” and you’ll likely live longer, or at least have a better quality of life as you age. These days, however, eating real food (i.e.: unprocessed foods) may not be as easy as you think. Additionally, including ultra-processed foods in our modern diets has increased dramatically over the past several decades.
An ultra-processed food is generally defined as a food item that contains multiple chemical ingredients and which is manufactured from a variety of industrial processes.
Some would say the age of processed foods began with the introduction of the “TV Dinner Age” and that may well be true. The switch to convenience or packaged foods from store shelves, fast foods from drive-thru outlets, and eating at restaurants that simply microwave foods that are pre-made offsite are all included in this category of ultra-processed foods.
Recent studies indicate that increased consumption of ultra-processed foods result in a higher risk of an early death. These foods contribute to a shorter lifespan in a number of ways that include heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes and other chronic diseases.
Eating “clean” is generally defined as eating real foods that do not contain chemical ingredients. Ultra-processed foods are on the other side of the spectrum, with ingredients that include a list of chemicals with too many syllables to pronounce or even define. In general, previous studies have shown a link between high consumption of processed foods and an increased risk of obesity and the chronic diseases mentioned above.
A recent study shows that about 30% of the calories in a modern diet comes from foods that are in the ultra-processed category. The study also indicated that, for each 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in a participant’s diet, there was a corresponding 14% higher risk of death over the study period of seven years.
Ultra-processed foods are higher in sodium, have a greater sugar content, and are low in fiber. They also generally contain chemicals that may be harmful or at least produce harmful chemicals in the manufacturing process. An example that has been studied extensively is the nitrite chemicals added to processed meats like bacon and hot dogs.
I have decided to “eat clean” for a number of reasons. I’m an older adult and want to remain active and healthy for a great many more years. I also have arthritis in some of my joints, particularly my hands and shoulders, and I have started a regimen of eating less inflammatory foods. The short story on my journey to eating clean from an inflammatory standpoint is to eat less processed foods, but also less refined carbohydrates. So, my diet is now richer in unprocessed fruits, vegetables, proteins and good fats with less reliance on commercial carbohydrates to fill me up.
I’ll keep you posted on my progress. Maybe I’ll even drop a couple of those nasty excess pounds in the process.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d like to hear them!