If you think the teenagers in your life have been eating a lot of unhealthy food – you’re probably right.
U.S. adolescents get about two-thirds of their calories from ultra-processed food, and the more they eat, the worse they score on important measures of heart health, a new study says.
Nutritionists started using the term “ultra-processed food” about a decade ago. The study used a diet classification system called NOVA that sums it up as “snacks, drinks, ready meals and many other products created mostly or entirely from substances extracted from foods or derived from food constituents with little if any intact food.”
Experts say not all processed foods are unhealthy. Some can still have nutritional value.
The ultra-processed food category includes chips, cookies, candy, soft drinks and ready-to-heat products such as pizza, instant soup, hot dogs and chicken nuggets. In short – a list of wrappers you might find on the floor of a teenager’s room.
A new study has shed light on the link between the consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPF) and the shortening of telomeres; sections of chromosomes that can be used as a marker of biological age. The work was conducted by Lucia Alonso-Pedrero and colleagues with the supervision of Professor Maira Bes-Rastrollo and Professor Amelia Marti, University of Navarra, Pamplona, Spain.
The research, being presented at this year’s European and International Conference on Obesity (ECOICO 2020), held online this year (1-4 September), indicates that telomeres were twice as likely to be short in individuals who had a high consumption (more than 3 servings per day) of UPFs. Short telomeres are a marker of biological aging at the cellular level, and the study suggests that diet may be causing the cells to age faster.
What is the difference? Definitions vary, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture says anything that changes the fundamental nature of an agricultural product – heating, freezing, dicing, juicing – is a processed food.