Ultra-processed foods (UPFs) are associated with a host of conditions that, quite frankly, cause premature aging and increase your risk of death.
But are all ultra-processed foods bad for you?
After all, there are some UPFs that you might not associate with health risks. Your protein supplement, for example, that helps you build and maintain healthy cells and tissue can’t be that bad for you, can it?
What about your “greens” or “antioxidant” supplement that helps with immunity and serves as a multivitamin?
Make no mistake about it: these items are just as ultra-processed as some of the unhealthiest foods on the planet, like sugar-sweetened drinks, processed meats, candy, and chips.
A new study has re-enforced that a higher intake of UCFs is associated with accelerated biological aging. The Spanish study noted that a higher intake of ultra-processed foods was associated with shorter telomeres, a key indicator of biological age.
Biological age is much different than chronological age and does a much better job of indicating a person’s overall health.
Telomeres help protect your chromosomes. They attach to the end of your chromosomes, somewhat like the plastic or metal caps at the tips of your shoelaces. As a person gets older, they naturally shorten and become less effective.
But there are certain behaviors that can accelerate this process. A poor diet is one of them.
The new research looked at data from people participating in an existing study called the SUN project. Researchers looked at 866 people over the age of 55 to determine the effects of UPF on telomere length.
The team relied on DNA analysis and self-reported food intake and separated participants into four categories:
- Low UPF intake: under 2 servings
- Medium-low: 2-2.5 servings
- Medium-high: 2.5-3 servings
- High: more than 3 servings
They found that:
- Those in the medium-low group were 29% more likely to have shortened telomeres.
- People in the medium-high group were 40% more likely to have reduced telomere length.
- Those in the high group were 82% more likely to have shortened telomeres.
As you might expect, people who are more UPFs also ate less protein, fruit, vegetables, fiber, and had a lower intake of micronutrients. Which brings us back to our initial question: are all UPFs unhealthy?
Although you don’t want your primary source of nutrition to come from supplements like protein and green powder, these products are nutrient-rich. If you’re taking a daily scoop of protein and a greens supplement, you probably don’t have to worry about it causing premature aging.
But remember, to reduce the effects of aging and lower your risk for health complications, focus on eating a variety of nutritious whole foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, fresh meats and fish, and dairy.