In light of Monday’s conversation about the threat that “diabesity” has posed even to children during this pandemic, today, let’s dive deeper into the harmful effects of ultra-processed foods.
Because according to a large study on kids and teens in the U.K., eating too many of these foods hijacks the metabolome (a fancy word for your chemical structure) and fuels obesity.
This isn’t surprising. But let’s look at what they found—and how you can help your grandkids stay out of the crosshairs.
A straight line to metabolic disease
This study looked at metabolic changes in children at the age of 7.5 years and at adolescence.
Researchers calculated the level of ultra-processed food intake as a proportion of total daily calorie consumption. Ultra-processed foods, in this study, included mostly mass-produced packaged foods, like cookies and chips—all low in essential nutrients, yet high in addictive sugar and sugar substitutes. In other words, consisting of flavor profiles that very likely to lead to overeating.
And they landed on some pretty dramatic findings…
Ultra-processed food made up more than 60 percent of the kids’ daily diets at the age of 7.5 years… and a shocking 58 percent at 13 years.
In the younger kids, higher intakes of ultra-processed food were associated with lower levels of key metabolites—including omega-3 fatty acids (like DHA), tyrosine, and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs, like leucine, valine, and isoleucine). There was also a shift from “good” HDL cholesterol toward the more dangerous VLDL (very low-density lipoproteins).
The adolescents didn’t fare any better. Teens with higher intakes of ultra-processed food also had lower ratios of essential fatty acids… and higher triglyceride levels.
All of these health changes contribute to weight gain and lead straight to cardiometabolic disease—a leading cause of death. Further underscoring the role that diet has in fueling the childhood obesity epidemic.
Start feeding your kids (and grandkids) well
One of the most interesting things about this study, to me, is that it looked at BCAAs. You may recall that these amino acids form the basis of my latest book, The A-List Diet.
BCAAs directly influence your susceptibility to weight gain by controlling both food intake and appetite. So it’s no wonder that ultra-processed food consumption depletes them—along with two other key amino acids, phenylalanine and tyrosine.
(Learn more about the importance of BCAAs in the April 2017 issue of my Logical Health Alternatives newsletter [“The sinister culprit that keeps your body from burning fat”]. Not yet a subscriber? Become one today!)
This also highlights the fact that all studies like this seem to circle back to the gut microbiome. Simply put, your intestinal levels of BCAAs depend on your gut’s bacteria and metabolism to thrive. Which shows, once again, that an unhealthy gut also has a direct influence on obesity—in childhood, and beyond.
This is something that I’ve been preaching since the beginning of my career, but I’ll say it again now, 30 years later: If you want to give your kids (or grandkids) a great start in life, start by feeding them well and avoiding ultra-processed junk foods.
“Ultraprocessed Food Adversely Impacts Metabolome in Kids.” Medscape Medical News, 05/14/2021. (medscape.com/viewarticle/951153)