Ultra-processed food may increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease, study finds

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Experts encourage consumers to choose healthier options for optimal digestive health

Eating ultra-processed foods has been associated with several health risks, including poor heart health and an increased likelihood of cancer. Now, a new study is exploring how this type of diet can impact consumers’ gut health

According to researchers, eating large quantities of ultra-processed foods may increase consumers’ risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

“We found that higher intake of ultra-processed foods was associated with an increased risk of IBD,” the researchers wrote. “This was seen for all ultra-processed foods, as well as individual types, including processed meats, soft drinks, refined sweetened foods, and salty foods and snacks.” 

Health risks of processed foods

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 116,000 participants who were enrolled in the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. They looked closely at the participants’ dietary habits and followed up with them over the course of nearly 10 years to determine how their food choices impacted their health. 

The researchers learned that participants who ate the most ultra-processed foods were at the highest risk of developing IBD, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Participants who ate as many as four servings of processed foods each day were nearly 70% more likely to develop IBD, while those who ate five or more servings each day were more than 80% more likely to develop IBD. 

The researchers also looked at the effects of specific food choices on the risk of IBD. They determined that it wasn’t necessarily the food choices that were bad, but the way the foods were prepared. The team doesn’t recommend entirely eliminating things like red meat, dairy products, or certain legumes; however, they say consumers should opt for fresher varieties of these options instead of ultra-processed versions.  

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