Ultra-processed foods consist of a mix of oils, fats, sugars, starch and proteins that cannot be considered whole or natural food varieties. (Representational Image)(Unsplash)
Ultra-processed foods consist of a mix of oils, fats, sugars, starch and proteins that cannot be considered whole or natural food varieties. (Representational Image)(Unsplash)

National Nutrition Week: What is junk food and how does it affect your body’s ageing process?

Eating a poor quality diet, which includes processed or ultra-processed food, is linked to a higher risk of obesity, lifestyle disorders, depression, digestive issues, heart ailments and in some cases, even an early death.
By hindustantimes.com | Edited by Saumya Sharma | Hindustan Times, Delhi
UPDATED ON SEP 03, 2020 08:54 AM IST

Imagine a plate of potato fries, freshly fried and placed infront of you along with tomato ketchup and maybe a few mayonnaise-based dips. It may make your mouth water and maybe even make you want to order in from your nearest restaurant (if they’re back in business amid the Covid-19 pandemic) or if you so wish, even make that extra effort of cooking them at home. Then there might also be a wish to add a can of soda, and definitely a cheesy burger with double patties to go with this delicious combination. It’s all tasty and irresistible till you start counting the calories and give yourself a reality check about the food that you consume.

It is rightly said ‘you are what you eat’. So you might want to feel like a light lettuce, floating around, but actually have piled on all those unwanted kilos to look like your favourite burger instead, in other words, unhealthy and definitely not a friend to your body and mind.

But it’s not just those fries or burgers to blame, as we’re easily drawn to consuming junk or processed food because it might be effortless, probably tastier, and the type of food on which ingredient labels are a lost cause.

Did you know that eating a poor quality diet, which includes processed or ultra-processed food, is linked to a higher risk of obesity, lifestyle disorders, depression, digestive issues, heart ailments and in some cases, even an early death?

Three or more servings of ultra-processed food a day “double the odds that strands of DNA and proteins called telomeres, found on the end of chromosomes, would be shorter compared to people who rarely consumed such foods”, reported scientists at the European and International Conference on Obesity.

“Short telomeres are a marker of biological ageing at the cellular level, and the study suggests that diet is a factor in driving the cells to age faster,” says a report by AFP.

Even though the correlation is strong, the causal relationship between eating processed foods and diminished telomeres remains speculative, the authors of the research cautioned.

“Each human cell has 23 pairs of chromosomes that contain our genetic code,” adds the AFP report.

“Telomeres do not carry genetic information, but are vital for preserving the stability and integrity of chromosomes and, by extension, the DNA that all the cells in our body relies on to function. As we get older, our telomeres shorten naturally because each time a cell divides, part of the telomere is lost. That reduction in length has long been recognised as a marker of biological age,” it continues.

What are ultra-processed foods?

Ultra-processed foods consist of a mix of oils, fats, sugars, starch and proteins that cannot be considered whole or natural food varieties. They are often artificially-flavoured, coloured and contain emulsifiers, preservatives and other additives that increase the food product’s shelf-life and by that extension the manufacturer’s profit margins.

“These same properties, however, also mean that such foods are nutritionally poor compared to less processed alternatives”, the researchers told AFP

“Earlier studies have shown strong correlations between ultra-processed foods and hypertension, obesity, depression, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. These conditions are often age-related in so far as they are linked to oxidative stress and inflammation known to influence telomere length.”

-- with AFP inputs

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