HomeENGLISH MAGAZINEThe abitual eating of ultra-processed foods: tasty, whith high calories but lacking...

The abitual eating of ultra-processed foods: tasty, whith high calories but lacking substantial proteins

Ultra-processed foods (UPF; industrial ready-to-eat or heat-up preparations) have gradually replaced traditional foods and meals in many countries based on fresh and minimally processed ingredients. Examples of such foods are prepackaged soups, frozen pizza, salsas, canned meals, frankfurters, sodas, ice cream, and cookies, cakes, and candies. New research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine has found that increased consumption of these foods was associated with more than 10 percent of premature and preventable deaths from all causes in Brazil in 2019, although Brazilians consume a lot of them. fewer products than in high-income countries. Across all age groups and sex strata, UPF consumption ranged from 13% to 21% of total food intake in Brazil during the period studied. A total of 541,260 adults aged 30-69 died prematurely in 2019, including 260,000 from preventable and noncommunicable diseases.

The model found that approximately 57,000 deaths that year could be attributed to UPF use, which accounted for 10.5% of all premature deaths and 21.8% of all deaths from preventable NCDs in adults aged between 30 and 69 years old. The investigators have suggested that in high-income countries such as the US, Canada, the UK and Australia, where UPFs account for more than half of total calorie intake, the estimated impact would be even higher. Having a tool to estimate deaths attributable to the consumption of UPFs can help nations estimate the burden of dietary changes related to industrial food processing; and design more effective food policy options to promote healthier food environments. But if it is possible to reach the bottom of the problem, the consumption of UPFs even before reaching mortality reaches overweight and frank obesity which, as a consequence, become causes of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other disorders.

Another year-long study of the dietary habits of more than 9,300 Australians supported growing evidence that UPF foods are the main contributors to rising obesity rates in the Western world. The new study built on a national survey of nutrition and physical activity undertaken by the Australian Bureau of Statistics and further supports the ‘protein leverage hypothesis’. First presented in 2005 by Professors Raubenheimer and Simpson, this hypothesis holds that people eat too much fat and carbohydrates because of the body’s strong appetite for protein, which the body actively favors over everything else. Because most modern diets consist of highly processed and refined foods that are low in protein, people are driven to consume more energy-dense foods until their protein needs are met. They found that the average percentage of energy from protein was just 18.4%, compared to 43.5% from carbohydrates and 30.9% from fat.

They then plotted energy intake versus time of consumption and found that the pattern matched that predicted by the protein lever hypothesis. Those who ate lower amounts of protein in their first meal of the day continued to increase their overall food intake at subsequent meals, while those who received the recommended amount of protein did not and, in fact, they reduced their food intake during the day. Scientists rightly state that when people consume more junk foods or highly processed and refined foods, they dilute the protein in their diet and increase their risk of being overweight and obese. It’s increasingly clear that our bodies eat to satisfy a protein target; but the problem is that the food in western diets has less and less protein. Hence, more must be consumed to reach your protein goal, which effectively increases your total daily calorie intake.

Humans, like many other species, have a stronger appetite for protein than for major energy nutrients such as fat and carbohydrates. This means that if the protein in our diet is diluted with fat and carbohydrates, we will eat more energy to get the protein our bodies crave. They also found a difference between the groups by the third meal of the day: Those with a higher percentage of energy from protein at the start of the day had a much lower total energy intake for the day. Meanwhile, those who ate low-protein foods earlier in the day continued to increase their intake, indicating they were trying to compensate with higher overall energy expenditure. This was despite the first meal being the smallest for both groups, with the least amount of energy and food consumed, while the last meal was the largest. This gives rise to a “protein dilution” effect.

The above informations should encourage a more abundant consumption of fresh foods, which the scientific community has always emphasized and highlighted for the prevention of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancers. This does not mean that the exception cannot occasionally occur: it is only good that the exception does not become the rule.

  • Edited by Dr. Gianfrancesco Cormaci, PhD, specialist in Clinical Biochemistry.

Scientific references

Nilson EAF et al. Amer J Prevent Med 2023 Jan; 64(1):129-36. 

Grech A et al. Obesity (Silver Spring) 2022; 30(11):2156-66.

Ribeiro-Silva RC et al. Public Health Nutr. 2021 Dec 17:1-11.

Askari M et al. Int J Obes (Lond). 2020; 44(10):2080–2091.

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Dott. Gianfrancesco Cormaci

Medico Chirurgo, Specialista; PhD. a CoFood s.r.l.
- Laurea in Medicina e Chirurgia nel 1998 (MD Degree in 1998) - Specialista in Biochimica Clinica nel 2002 (Clinical Biochemistry residency in 2002) - Dottorato in Neurobiologia nel 2006 (Neurobiology PhD in 2006) - Ha soggiornato negli Stati Uniti, Baltimora (MD) come ricercatore alle dipendenze del National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA/NIH) e poi alla Johns Hopkins University, dal 2004 al 2008. - Dal 2009 si occupa di Medicina personalizzata. - Guardia medica presso strutture private dal 2010 - Detentore di due brevetti sulla preparazione di prodotti gluten-free a partire da regolare farina di frumento enzimaticamente neutralizzata (owner of patents concerning the production of bakery gluten-free products, starting from regular wheat flour). - Responsabile del reparto Ricerca e Sviluppo per la società CoFood s.r.l. (Leader of the R&D for the partnership CoFood s.r.l.) - Autore di articoli su informazione medica e salute sul sito www.medicomunicare.it (Medical/health information on website) - Autore di corsi ECM FAD pubblicizzati sul sito www.salutesicilia.it
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