Need Another Reason to Skip Junk Food? Ultra-Processed Foods Will Shorten Your Lifespan

Many of us have heard that eating more whole foods can help with maintaining a healthy weight and looking your best, but there’s new proof it will also increase your lifespan. Harvard Health recently highlighted the risks of ultra-processed food, citing a recent study of 44,000+ patients over 7 years.

Here’s what we found out:

What is ultra-processed food?

Ultra-processed foods are those that undergo significant manipulation before landing on store shelves: they have the most additives, are often colored, shaped or sweetened unnaturally, and you’d often be hard-pressed to identify the original ingredients in them.

The ultra-processed list includes (but is not limited to) ready-to-eat items such as crackers, cereals, chicken nuggets, candy, chips, ramen noodles, hot dogs, frozen dinners.

Ultra-processed foods tend to contain high amounts of sugar, sodium, unhealthy fats, and/or additives—all of which have been associated with an increased risk for chronic diseases.

Note that you don’t have to avoid all “processed” foods: those that have been prepared with simple steps like cooking, canning, fermenting, or juicing are part of a healthy diet. Some lightly processed foods are even known to be specifically beneficial in their modified form, such as miso or kimchi.

Why are ultra-processed foods so bad for you?

Mainly, it comes down to a lack of nutritional value. Ultra-processed foods tend to be very low in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, yet very high in calories. They also contain higher amounts of added sugar, sodium, unhealthy fats, and additives—all of which have been associated with an increased risk for chronic diseases. The World Health Organization has even issued warnings stating that processed meats are a known carcinogen.

These foods tend to also be engineered to be very palatable (sweet and salty), yet don’t satisfy hunger for long, meaning it is easy to overeat processed foods.

A 7+ year study including 44,000+ adults found a direct connection between higher consumption levels of ultra-processed foods and early death.

Additionally, attempts at adding nutrients back to ultra-processed foods in artificial ways (for example, in breakfast cereal) does not seem to offer the same benefits as consuming micro- and macro-nutrients via whole foods.

There is evidence that the abundance of ultra-processed food in modern diets is having a negative effect. Over a 7+ year study investigating the link between diet, lifestyle, and mortality, researchers found a direct connection between higher consumption levels of ultra-processed foods and early death, primarily from a variety of cancers and cardiovascular disease.

How to stay healthy in Las Vegas

Cheap, fast, and easy food is readily available and it can be difficult to not fall into the trap of convenience at the cost of a healthy diet. But, there are healthy (and fast) alternatives in Las Vegas, if you know where to look. If you need something on the go, try a premade meal from a grocer like Sprouts Farmers Market instead of a typical drive through.

If you’re new to cooking or just don’t have the time to shop, try an online subscription service such as Blue Apron. These pre-planned meals come ready to make with all of the ingredients included, and you can choose special diet options including vegan, gluten free, and low carb. It’s simple and, depending on the meal and plan, costs are comparable to buying and preparing the same foods from scratch on your own.

Additionally, you can follow a classic health tip: if you cannot pronounce it, you probably shouldn’t regularly eat it. Before tossing a packaged food into your cart, read the ingredients label. If it is overly long or you see things you don’t recognize, choose something else.

Aside from living longer, eating well can also speed up recovery after surgery and help you maintain your results for longer. As a Las Vegas cosmetic surgeon, I’ve seen the difference it can make when patients clean up their diets in preparation for their procedures—not only do they enjoy faster, more comfortable recoveries, but those who stick with a healthy lifestyle after surgery continue to enhance their beautiful results for years to come.

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