• How Do Processed Foods Cause Disease? - Chromatography Investigates

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How Do Processed Foods Cause Disease? - Chromatography Investigates

May 18 2021

Processed foods have become an integral part of our diet in the West. In fairness, much of the food we eat has been processed to a degree, if only to kill bugs and make it safe to eat. Not all processed food is the same and not all processed foods are bad - minced beef, destoned dates and milled nuts are not exactly unhealthy foods, but they are processed though.

But some processed foods, called ultra-processed, have had additional ingredients such as artificial ingredients to make the food taste better and store longer. These processed foods are said to be a major contributor to obesity and illness around the world. A recent study - Processed foods drive intestinal barrier permeability and microvascular diseases - carried out by a team of researchers led by Monash University in Australia has shown that a diet high in processed foods can increase the risk of kidney disease.

NOVA model breaks processing down

To help clarify the processing of food, an international panel of food scientists and researchers helped to develop the NOVA system which has been recognised by the World Health Organization and other regulators. NOVA classifies processed foods as belonging to one of four groups:

  • Unprocessed or minimally processed – natural edible parts of plants and animals, allows mincing, freezing and other processes that preserve food but do not alter the nutritional value.
  • Processed culinary ingredients – foods used to prepare other foods, oils, seeds, nuts or wholewheat pasta.
  • Processed foods – foods from the previous groups that have had salt, sugar or fat added. Canned fish, fresh bread and cheese could be examples.
  • Ultra-processed foods – include artificial ingredients, colours, and preservatives to improve flavour and shelf life. Sugary drinks, frozen dinners and biscuits could fall into this category.

There is growing evidence that highly processed foods are detrimental to health; there has been an increased consumption of processed foods over the last few decades, at the same time obesity and diabetes have become increasingly prevalent throughout the global population.

Chronic kidney disease from processed food

One group of components that are found in highly processed foods are advanced glycation end products (AGEs). They are produced by the Maillard reaction between amino acids and sugars and are synthesized during thermal food production and processing. Maillard reaction products can impart improved flavour and aroma in processed foods and so they have a long history of inclusion in processed foods.

In the study referenced above, researchers investigated the effects of a processed diet on disease risk in a mouse model. The effects of the diet were analysed using chromatography; the following article Advancing Effective Glycan Analysis discusses the role of chromatography in analysing important biomolecules. The team demonstrated that an increased diet of processed food drives ‘leaky-gut syndrome’ and an increased risk of chronic kidney disease. But they also found that the effects could be reversed by certain changes in diet.


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