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Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Disease and Early Death
Are ultra-processed foods like savory snacks, frozen meals and soft drinks really bad for your health? A pair of European studies published Wednesday gives fresh evidence that you are better off avoiding them.
The studies, which both appeared in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), followed groups of people over a period of time in France and Spain and found that those who ate more factory-made foods were at greater risk for heart disease and early death respectively.
This is concerning because these foods are becoming a larger part of people's diets.
"Ultraprocessed foods already make up more than half of the total dietary energy consumed in high-income countries such as USA, Canada and the UK," senior author of the Spanish study and professor of preventive medicine and public health at the Universidad de Navarra Maira Bes-Rastrollo wrote in an email to CNN. "In the case of Spain, consumption of ultraprocessed food almost tripled between 1990 and 2010."
So what exactly did the studies find?
The study Bes-Rastrollo participated in followed nearly 20,000 volunteers aged 20 to 91 between 1999 and 2014, asking them detailed questions about the food they ate every two years. It found that those who ate more than four servings a day of highly-processed foods were 62 percent more likely to die early. That risk went up 18 percent for every extra serving of factory-made food they consumed.
Bes-Rastrollo told CNN her study showed results that agreed with other studies in France and the U.S., which, to her, lent "support" to the idea that ultra-processed diets actually cause ill health.
The French study, conducted by the University of Paris, followed more than 105,000 people over five years. It found that, for every 10 percent increase in the amount of ultra-processed foods someone consumed, their risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular disease rose around 12 percent, according to The Guardian. The difference in outcome between low and high processed diets was not huge — the results indicated there would be 277 cases of heart disease for every 100,000 people who consumed lots of high-processed foods compared to 242 cases for every 100,000 people who did not. But study author Mathilde Touvier told The Guardian there was enough of a difference to justify abstaining from high-processed snacks.
"The public should avoid these foods as much as they can," she said. "We need to go back to more basic diets."
What Are Ultra-Processed Foods?
Researchers classified foods according to something called the NOVA classification system, which puts foods in four categories based on how they are made, as CNN explained:
The "unprocessed or minimally processed" food category included fruits, vegetables, legumes, milk, eggs, meats, poultry, fish and seafood, yogurt, grains (white rice and pasta) and natural juice. Salt, sugar, honey, olive oil, butter and lard were listed in the category of "processed ingredients," while "processed foods" included cheeses, breads, beer, wine, cured traditional ham and bacon. The final category encompassed ultraprocessed foods such as flan, chorizo, sausages, mayonnaise, potato chips, pizza, cookies, chocolates and candies, artificially sweetened beverages and whisky, gin and rum.
The two studies follow other research suggesting that these highly-processed foods are bad for human health. A previous study had linked consuming them to increased cancer risk, according to a BMJ editorial published alongside Wednesday's studies.
"These findings add to growing evidence of an association between ultra-processed food and adverse health outcomes that has important implications for dietary advice and food policies," editorial authors Mark A. Lawrence and Phillip I. Baker wrote. "The dietary advice is relatively straightforward: eat less ultra-processed food and more unprocessed or minimally processed food."
Why these foods are harmful is still a question for further research. A U.S. National Institutes of Health study suggested processed foods might encourage people to eat more. Researchers monitored all the food eaten by volunteers for a month and found that they ate 500 more calories a day when given the ultra-processed items, BBC News reported.
Other possibilities include the fact that these foods lack nutrients and fiber, are easy to eat, are more immediately attractive than healthier options and contain food additives that, while tested for safety individually, may have harmful effects when eaten in combination, BBC News said.
However, some question the "ultra-processed" category. Biochemist and University of Reading Associate Professor of Nutrition and Health Gunter Kuhnle said the studies were "very well and thoroughly conducted," but thought the NOVA categories were not clear.
"While 'ultra-processed' food is commonly assumed to be food that is extensively processed ... it actually contains foods which undergo few processing steps, such as hamburgers, crisps or chips, or those that contain preservatives that have been used for centuries such as preserves," he wrote, as CNN reported. "It is also not obvious why salami is considered to be ultra-processed, yet cheese, which often requires considerably more processing steps and additives, is not."
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By Zulfikar Abbany
Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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