Why do processed foods cause obesity?

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New York: Chips, soda and frozen pizzas tend to be full of salt, sugar and fat, but now scientists are trying to understand if there’s something else about such processed foods that might be bad for us.

Already, the spread of cheap, packaged foods has been linked to rising obesity rates around the world. Yet advice to limit processed foods can seem unhelpful, given how convenient they are and the growing array of products that fall into the category.

While three recent studies offer more clues on how our increasingly industrialised food supply may be affecting our health, they also underscore how difficult nutrition science and advice can be. Here’s what they say.

What does “processed” mean?

Whether it’s curing, freezing, milling or pasteurisation, nearly all foods undergo some type of processing. Even though processing itself doesn’t automatically make food unhealthy, “processed foods” is generally a negative term.

To more precisely identify the processed foods of most concern, scientists came up with a system that groups foods into four categories. It’s far from perfect, but the system says highly processed foods are made mostly of industrialised ingredients and additives, with little to no intact whole foods.

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