Ultra-processed Foods and Gut Health

Sheela Krishnaswamy
Sheela Krishnaswamyhttps://thip.me/32BLvwP
Sheela Krishnaswamy is a Registered Dietitian with 38 years of professional experience in the clinical, corporate and communication spaces. She was trained in India and overseas. She is active in national and international dietetic associations. She has had a media presence for the last 25 years. Formerly, a successful nutrition entrepreneur, an editor, a public speaker and a blogger, currently she works independently as Nutrition & Wellness Consultant, Advisor, Anchor, Writer and Corporate Trainer.

Ultra-processed foods are usually recognized / categorized by the ingredients used and the processing involved in making these foods.  According to NOVA classification, foods fall under 4 categories

  1. Unprocessed or minimally processed foods. 
  2. Processed culinary ingredients. 
  3. Processed foods. 
  4. Ultra-processed food and drink products. 

Ultra-processed foods are soft drinks, sweet or savoury packaged snacks, reconstituted meat products, pre-prepared frozen dishes, and so on, which are formulations made mostly or entirely from foods and additives, with little if any intact Group 1 foods. These foods also include additives that are normally not used in culinary preparations.  The overall purpose of ultra-processing is to create branded, convenient, attractive and highly profitable food products designed to displace all the other food groups. 

While whole foods and minimally processed foods are associated with low levels of diet-related diseases, the environment created in the gut by ultra-processed foods, is a unique selection ground for microbes that can promote diverse forms of inflammatory disease. 

Neelanjana Singh, Senior nutrition consultant, who has worked in the gastroenterology department of PSRI hospital, Delhi, for several years, says that eating ultra-processed foods regularly (about 4 to 5 servings a day) could cause a change in the gut microflora. “Studies show that such foods lower the short chain fatty acid producing bacteria which are beneficial, and increase proteobacteria which cause disease.  Emulsifiers used in ultra-processed foods have been linked to inflammatory bowel disease and artificial sweeteners linked to inflammation that causes non-communicable diseases”, says Neelanjana.

Stay away from ultra-processed foods and go in for minimally processed and natural foods as far as possible. 

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