Processed Foods May Harm Immune System, Increase Insulin Resistance

Study after study has shown that processed food isn’t good for you. Common sense agrees. They are low in fiber while being high in sugar, fat and additives. Nutritionists and doctors always say the best diet is one that is filled with whole foods and limits processed foods to help your body perform at its best. Now, a study has shown that processed food may have an impact on your immune system and blood sugar.

Researchers using mice found that a Western-style diet rich in low-fiber processed foods might increase the risk of chronic infections and inflammation. The researchers were looking at the rate of E. coli infections, they found that eating a diet that was predominantly processed food made the risk of getting ill from E. coli lower but increased other health problems. Processed foods often contain a lot of salt and preserves that increase a food’s shelf life and make it safer against contamination but less healthy.

The researchers think the lack of fiber might be the big problem. A lack of fiber can change the microbiome and decrease the number of healthy bacteria in the body, making you more at risk for metabolic problems, cancer and inflammatory bowel disease. The mice couldn’t get pathogens to clear their colons without the correct level of bacteria. That means the mice’s immune systems were compromised, and they were left more vulnerable to infections.   

We observed that feeding mice a Western-style diet, rather than standard rodent grain-based chow, altered the dynamics of Citrobacter infection, reducing initial colonization and inflammation, which was surprising. However, mice consuming the Western-style diet frequently developed persistent infection that was associated with low-grade inflammation and insulin resistance,” said Dr. Andrew Gewirtz, lead co-author.

We speculate that reshaping gut microbiota by nutrients that promote beneficial bacteria that out-compete pathogens may be a means of broadly promoting health,” said Dr. Jun Zou, senior co-author of the study.

It’s crucial to remember foods of all sorts can be “processed.” It doesn’t just mean mass-produced snacks. We’ve hit BBQ season, and hot dogs are a food to watch out for. We often forget about processed meats when thinking of unhealthy foods. Instead, when we think of meat to avoid for better health, we usually picture steaks. Processed meats are high in preservatives, salt and saturated fat.

We do have evidence to suggest that a diet rich in ultra-processed red meat like hot dogs may increase the risk of cancer,” said Abbey Sharp, a registered dietician. “Even ‘nitrate free’ or ‘natural’ hot dogs contain natural nitrates so I suggest limiting consumption to special occasions.”

A healthy diet should have a lot of variety. The summer months bring us a lot of fresh produce, and it’s a great time to add more color to your diet. Cutting back on processed food can help your overall health, boost the amount of fiber in your diet and help your blood sugar. For the sake of your gut and blood sugar, look to the grilled chicken and veggie skewers at the next cookout you attend!

Banner image: Ball Park Brand via Unsplash
May 13, 2021
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