Soft drinks, crackers, snacks, fast food, frozen lasagna… These are some of the ultra-processed foods, that is, foods that contain a greater number of additives and last longer due to added preservatives.
If you’re the type of person who likes to consume these items, it’s good to know that research suggests they may increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
To reach this conclusion, the study examined the eating habits of more than 100,000 people. The analysis was led by the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Statistics at the University of Paris, France.
Ultra-processed foods and diabetes
The survey ran for ten years, from 2009 to 2019. The researchers collected data on participants’ dietary intake and asked them about their consumption of nearly 3,500 different foods.
Then the experts classified the foods according to the degree of their processing. Four categories are outlined: unprocessed/minimally processed foods, cooking ingredients, processed foods, and ultra-processed foods.
Thus, when crossing the records with a questionnaire on the volunteers’ eating habits, physical activity, and family history, the specialists found a consistent association between the absolute amount of consumption of ultra-processed foods and the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
The review authors commented: “While these findings need to be confirmed in other populations and settings, they provide evidence to support efforts by public health authorities to recommend limiting consumption of ultra-processed foods.”
What could explain the relationship?
The authors urge caution when interpreting the associations they found: “Most additives in ultra-processed foods are likely to be neutral for long-term health. Some may be beneficial,” they write, offering antioxidants as an example.
However, there are other compounds that recent studies in mice and in the laboratory have indicated may be harmful. For example, carrageenan, a thickening and stabilizing agent, […] may contribute to the development of diabetes by impairing glucose tolerance, increasing insulin resistance, and inhibiting insulin signaling.
However, they caution that more research in humans is needed before any conclusions can be drawn about the harm of these compounds.
Similarly, chemicals like phthalates and bisphenol A, often found in plastic packaging, can contaminate ultra-processed foods. BPA and phthalates can disrupt endocrine function. Furthermore, the authors note that some recent analyzes have shown that higher concentrations of these compounds are associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, research has linked metabolites formed as a result of high-temperature cooking, such as the metabolites acrylamide and acrolein, with insulin resistance.
“Finally, partial hydrogenation of synthetic oil can lead to the formation of trans fatty acids in products containing hydrogenated oils,” the authors state. They note that “although trans fats are still debated, they have been associated with increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.”