Greater IBD risk associated with ultra-processed foods

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There’s more research showing how ultra-processed foods affect the body.

A study published in the BMJ shows that consuming high rates of ultra-processed foods can lead to a greater risk of inflammatory bowel disease.

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Ultra-processed foods frequently have high levels of added sugars, salts and fat, but lack fiber and vitamins. They include packaged snacks, sodas, sugar-filled cereals, premade meals with additives and reconstituted fish and meat.

An estimated 3 million U.S. adults reported being diagnosed with IBD in 2015. That was up from 2 million adults in 1999, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is more common in industrialized nations, according to a BMJ press release. It’s believed dietary factors play a role.

The study published in the BMJ involved an international team of researchers pulling data from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. They used dietary information from 116,087 adults from ages 35 to 70. Participants lived in 21 low, middle, and high-income countries.

The study took place between 2003 and 2016 and researchers assessed participants at least every three years. More than 400 participants developed IBD; 90 had Crohn’s disease and 377 had ulcerative colitis.

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Once researchers took other factors into account, they found greater consumption of ultra-processed food was associated with a higher risk of IBD.

Those who ate five or more servings of ultra-processed foods per day had an 82% increased risk of IBD compared to those who consumed less than one serving of those foods. Eating 1-4 servings per day had a 67% increased risk.

Consuming white meat, red meat, dairy, starch, and fruit, vegetables and legumes wasn’t linked to IBD. Consuming sodas, refined sweetened foods, salty snacks and processed meat had links to higher risks of IBD.

“Further studies are needed to identify specific potential contributory factors among processed foods that might be responsible for the observed associations in our study,” researchers concluded.

This isn’t the first time research has shown ultra-processed food’s bodily impact.

In June, researchers found highly processed foods are linked to childhood obesity. A 2020 study showed a link between ultra-processed foods and aging more quickly.