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What happens when you eat ultra-processed food

WARNING: This article will make you think twice about your current habits!

Recent studies have indicated that children in some developed countries now receive two-thirds of their calories from ultra-processed foods, leading to concerns over a lack of research into the impact that such a diet can have on physiology. To fill this knowledge gap, a UK doctor recently switched to a diet consisting of 80 percent ultra-processed foods for 30 days, resulting in an array of negative changes to his body and brain.

Describing his experiment as part of a future documentary, the doctor explained that while such excessive consumption of highly processed food might sound extreme, it’s the same diet that one in five people in the UK eats. Beginning with a breakfast of fried chicken containing an assortment of chemicals like monosodium glutamate, he spent an entire month stuffing his face with hyper-palatable food items, although while his tastebuds might have enjoyed the experiment, it wasn’t long before his body started to suffer.

Credit: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

Credit: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

Within just a few days, he noticed that he felt hungry more often than he used to, and even began to crave food. To make matters worse, he soon became severely constipated. When the 30 days were up, he found that he had put on an incredible 6.5 kilograms in weight, which included an additional three kilograms of body fat. Based on this outcome, he calculates that maintaining this diet for six months would cause him to balloon by a whopping 38 kilograms.

His body mass index also increased by two points over the month, pushing him into the overweight range, while a number of alarming hormone changes also occurred. For instance, blood tests revealed a 30 percent increase in "hunger hormones" that drive the desire to eat, while "fullness hormones" that tell the brain not to do so were lowered.

Credit: Louis Hansel/Unsplash

Credit: Louis Hansel/Unsplash

Perhaps the most striking and alarming changes, however, were seen in the brain. By comparing brain scans conducted before and after the experiment, doctors revealed that the diet had sparked the creation of new functional connections between certain brain regions. The diet has linked up the reward centres of his brain with the areas that drive repetitive, automatic behaviour. So eating ultra-processed food has become something his brain simply tells him to do, without he even wanting it. This is something you might see in a person with addiction.

Ultra-processed foods are generally industrially produced and contain a high number of chemical ingredients. While it isn’t fully understood how these products generate these negative effects, a recent study revealed that people who eat mostly ultra-processed foods tend to consume 500 more calories per day than those who eat unprocessed foods - even when their diets were matched for salt, fat and sugar content.

Credit: Leon EphraΓ―m/Unsplash

Credit: Leon EphraΓ―m/Unsplash

Summing up the dangers of offering such an unnatural diet to youngsters, the concern is that children’s brains are still developing and they’re much more malleable than in adulthood, which means the changes are likely to be even greater.

Credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya/Unsplash

Credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya/Unsplash

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Comments (17)

  • Very interesting article. It's sad, but not at all surprising! It also interesting to note MSG is hardly ever listed as MSG on list of ingredients. It's usually "Flavour Enhancer 635". I wrote about it to Authorities, but yet to hear back!

      1 month ago
    • Thank you Albert. 😊 I will investigate MSG, but so far I haven't seen anything MSG-related in the studies that get on my desk so far.

        1 month ago
    • MSG is nothing to worry about. All the hysteria over it in 1970's was nonsense and the science done on it over the decades has said flat out that MSG is a great food additive, for flavour enhancement. And it causes no ill effects in people that...

      Read more
        1 month ago
  • There was a documentary called "Supersize Me," where the presenter conducted a similar experiment, using McDonald's food. He became quite unhealthy as well. It makes sense that our brains would encourage us to eat highly processed food, because the calories are readily accessible. Humans "in the wild" would be attracted to easily digested food sources, since food was hard to come by, so more "bang for your buck" was desirable. Very interesting article, thank you!

      1 month ago
  • Wow this is a real eye opener. I’ve spent all 14 years of my life not caring about what I eat. I will definitely be buying wayyyy less processed foods in supermarkets. I think the problem is that nowadays processed food can be almost nice. So that doesn’t help when you need to be healthier. Thanks for the article anyway!

      1 month ago
  • For most kids both the parents are working so they don't have time to cook. So naturally they'll resort to cheap fast food

      1 month ago
  • Other than the McD's chicken nuggets, (the only thing I've gotten food poisoning from), I don't see any "ultra processed" foods. Fries are as far from processed as veg in your garden. And donuts are just sweetened bread. But, avoiding truly over processed foods isn't unwise.

      1 month ago
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