The Dangers of Ultra-Processed Foods: Twin Study Reveals Unhealthy Effects of Emulsifiers and Empty Calories

The Dangers of Ultra-Processed Foods: Twin Study Reveals Unhealthy Effects of Emulsifiers and Empty Calories

2023-06-06 09:00:00

Identical twins Aimee and Nancy (24) followed a special diet for research program BBC Panorama, under the guidance of scientists from King’s College London.

Aimee ate an ultra-processed food for two weeks, Nancy followed a diet with the exact same number of calories, nutrients, fat, sugar and fiber, but raw or barely processed.

Aimee gained almost a kilo, Nancy lost weight. Aimee’s blood sugar control deteriorated and the fats in her blood (lipids) increased. This limited experiment underscores nutritionists’ fears about ultra-processed foods.

Unprocessed is not necessarily ‘raw’

For those who fear that only raw food is still good, that is not the case. Unprocessed and minimally processed, this includes drying, grinding, pressing, steaming, roasting, cooking, pasteurizing, baking, cooling, freezing and non-alcoholic fermentation.

Unrecognizable ingredients

You can easily recognize ultra-processed food by a long ingredient list with many unrecognizable ingredients. Think of sweets, cookies, snacks, sugared breakfast cereals, ready-to-eat meals, ice cream, instant oatmeal, fruit juice from a carton, flavored dairy products, frozen pizzas, instant soup, pot noodles, fast food, meat substitutes, composite meat products (hamburgers, sausage), etc. cetera.

Empty calories

Eating them once (for example once a month) can’t do much harm, but this kind of ultra-processed food should not be on the table every day. The extensive processing and additions result in energy-rich foods with a high content of sugar, (saturated) fat and/or salt and at the same time a low content of proteins, dietary fibres, vitamins and/or minerals. They are also called empty calories: they are filling, but they are not nutritious.


In particular, emulsifiers (substances that serve as a kind of glue in ultra-processed food to keep things together) are under scrutiny. For the food industry, they are the Holy Grail: they improve the appearance and texture of food and help to keep it longer. They’re in everything from chocolate to mayonnaise.

Representative research

Various French and British research results (these are representative, the Sorbonne studied the eating pattern of 174,000 people, the British Imperial College’s School of Public Health examined the diet of 200,000 people) show that people who eat a lot of ultra-processed food, which contain irrevocably many emulsifiers, run a higher risk of various forms of cancer and cardiovascular disease. That risk is also higher in people who smoke or take little exercise.

Cooking with pure ingredients

What you eat is of course your own choice. But it is good to realize that the food industry is not necessarily about your health, they just want to sell a lot of products. Making your own from pure, unprocessed ingredients is more time-consuming and often more expensive, but it’s also more nutritious and healthier – that’s worth something too.

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