New Study Links This Serious Health Issue To Eating Ultra-Processed Foods

Ah, ultra-processed foods. Whether it's a can of Coke to get you through the workday, or a bowl of ice cream to satisfy a sugar craving, we all have our fixes. Ultra-processed foods contain high levels of salt, fat, added sugar, and artificial flavorings, while not containing much vitamins or fiber, according to Eat This, Not That. This includes foods such as salty snacks, reconstituted meats, packaged baked goods, sugary cereal, carbonated and fruit drinks, ice cream, and candy. 

While it's unsurprising that ultra-processed foods aren't the best for your diet, the health consequences of eating these types of foods and beverages might be more severe than you think. People who consume large amounts of ultra-processed foods may have a higher risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), according to a study published in The BMJ. IBD is an overarching term to describe disorders that involve chronic inflammation of your digestive tract, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. Common symptoms of IBD include fatigue, diarrhea, weight loss, cramps, abdominal pain, and reduced appetite (via CDC). 

Stick to eating unprocessed foods to help protect your digestive system

While there have been initial discoveries connecting ultra-processed food with IBD, very few clinical studies have investigated this hypothesis on a larger scale or provided key evidence to support this theory. To gather more conclusive data, a team of researchers rounded up a group of 116,000 adults between the ages of 35-70 for a study (via Eat This, Not That). The participants were from 21 low, middle, and high-income countries, and were assessed every three years between 2003 and 2016. Over the course of 13 years, 467 participants developed IBD. Of this group, 90 had Crohn's disease and 377 developed ulcerative colitis.

During this period, investigators found that a higher intake of ultra-processed food was indeed associated with a higher risk of IBD. Relative to participants consuming "less than one serving of ultra-processed food per day," researchers "found an 82% increased risk of IBD among those who consumed five or more servings per day, and a 67% increased risk for 1-4 servings per day" (via British Medical Journal). Meanwhile, consumption of natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, white meat, unprocessed red meat, legumes, dairy, and starches, were not linked to individuals developing IBD. These results led to theories that eating the same foods, unprocessed, does not carry the same health risks of developing IBD.