Scientific evidence that processed food is bad for you

I am not the only one who suspected that the highly processed Western diet has contributed to the increase in worldwide obesity and the diseases associated with obesity, known as metabolic syndrome*. A friend drew my attention to this article (thank you, Katie) published in Nature Letters (the top journal in science) in February of this year entitled Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome (1). Basically, the scientists behind this study showed that two emulsifiers, carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80, commonly found in foods such as ice cream, altered mucus thickness, microbiota composition (the community of bacteria) and enhanced inflammation in the gut of mice. The scientists also showed that administration of the emulsifiers to the mice resulted in weight gain and an increase in fat mass. These effects occurred when mice were given the emulsifiers via drinking water and via food, and as little as 0.1% was sufficient to produce these effects. The authors state that the consumption of emulsifiers by humans is not something that is well evaluated, but the use of emulsifiers in many foods exceeds 1.0%.

Keep in mind that the mice in this study were fed these emulsifiers every day for 3 months. So I believe that the take home message here is that an excess of processed foods is clearly bad for your health. If you need some inspiration for recipes containing minimally processed ingredients then you are in the right place.

* Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed by the presence of diabetes, impaired fasting glucose, impaired glucose tolerance or insulin resistance, together with at least two of the following: hypertension, hyperlipidemia, central obesity and microalbuminuria (2). In other words, you are fat and sick!

  1. Chassaing, B., Koren, O., Goodrich, J. K., Poole A. C., Srinivasan, S., Ley, R. E. and Gewirtz1, A. T. (2015). Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature. doi:10.1038/nature14232.
  2. Bruce, K. D and Byrne, C. D. (2009). The metabolic syndrome: common origins of a multifactorial discussion. Postgrad Med J. 85:614–21.

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