A new study from researchers at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain has shown that ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are linked to the shortening of the body’s telomeres. Shorter telomeres are a marker of accelerated biological aging.
The research indicates that telomeres were twice as likely to be short in people who consumed more than 3 servings per day of UPFs. Having multiple servings daily of junk food such of chips, cookies, fast-food and other processed meals, doubles the chances that certain strands of telomeres would be shorter than those who ate healthier.
Globally, the consumption of fresh food is decreasing while the consumption of UPFs is on the rise. UPFs are manufactured food products made up of the building blocks of naturally occurring foods – sugars, oils, fats and protein isolates. And while their components are often extracted from natural sources, unfortunately they ultimately contain very little or even in no in the way of whole foods. The ingredients and processes used in the manufacturing of UPFs makes them highly convenient, almost imperishable and ready-to-consume which are all attractive to consumers.
They are typically high profit for manufacturers because of the low cost ingredients and long shelf-life. However, these properties result in these products being nutritionally unbalanced or poor and liable to being over consumed often at the expense of more nutritious alternatives and less processed choices.
Often companies that produce UPFs add emulsifiers and flavorings for taste in addition to colorings and other cosmetic additives to achieve a more desired appearance.
The research team analyzed health data of 886 people aged 55 or older (the average age was 67.7 years) who gave saliva samples for DNA in 2008. The participants also self-reported their daily food consumption and checked back with the team every 2 years. The study included 645 men and 241 women.
The participants were then sorted into four groups of equal size based on UPF servings they consumed daily. The low group consumed less than 2 servings per day, the medium-low group 2 to 2.5 servings per day, the medium-high group 2.5 to 3 servings per day, and the high group more than 3 servings per day.
The likelihood of shortened telomeres increased dramatically with the number of servings of UPFs beginning with the medium-low group. This group was 29% more likely to exhibit reduced telomere length while the medium-high group was 40% more likely to do so. The participants in the high group were 82% more likely to have shortened telomeres.
The team also noted that the participants in the high group were more likely to have family history of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and abnormal blood fats and snacked more often in between meals. They also consumed more saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, cholesterol, sodium, sugar sweetened beverages, fast food, and processed meats and consumed less carbohydrates, fruit, fiber, vegetables, protein, olive oil and other micronutrients.
Previous research has not conclusively established a link between telomere length and UPFs. However, the new research has noted associations between telomere length and the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages, alcohol, processed meats, and foods that are high in sugar and saturated fats. Other research has shown a UPF connection to a variety of serious conditions such as hypertension, obesity, metabolic syndrome, depression, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer. However, these particular conditions also tend to be age related and therefore difficult to link definitively to the consumption of UPFs.
Finally, the team’s findings did link the consumption of UPFs to excessive body weight, all-cause mortality, and hypertension.
To view the original scientific study click below