How Processed Food Helps Harmful Bacteria

We all know that processed food – including soda, chips, sauces, and lots of other tempting yet unhealthy fruits of the chemical industry – is not beneficial for health. With more and more researches being undertaken, it is becoming more evident that it’s harmful in many ways. It has recently been reported that artificial sweeteners and several other substances contained in processed foods can contribute to inflammatory bowel disease, and the implications of consuming such food are multifaceted.

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Tasty junk

Processed food is notorious for being extremely unhealthy and lacking nutrients, while providing a lot of salt, sugar and saturated fats, which are the kinds of fats to be avoided due to many reasons, including its conversion into cholesterol by the liver. However, the substances found in such food have a variety of effects on the body, and not all of them are tied to affecting the body directly. New scientific evidence suggests food additives can disrupt intestinal microbiome, thus leading to inflammatory bowel disease and other conditions induced by bacteria.

Food for naught

A team of scientists from Baylor College of Medicine have recently revealed that clostridium difficile, often abbreviated as C. diff, a bacteria species that causes a life-threatening infection of the gut, can use trehalose, a sugar used in processed food. It is a food source for them that helps the most virulent (and problematic) strains of C. diff outnumber less dangerous strains, thus facilitating the invasion. Having offered the bacteria a wide range of amino acids and sugars, of which there were more than 200, the researchers found that C. diff preferred trehalose.

Trehalose is found in such natural sources as shellfish, mushrooms and yeasts. Natural trehalose is difficult to obtain and, consequently, expensive, and the chemical industry now uses special processes to make production of it cheap. The affordability of the compound made it widely spread, and nowadays it can be found in many a processed food, because trehalose can improve food texture, keep it moist, and stabilize such foods in general.

Since the compound was introduced in the 2000s, the number of C. diff outbreaks has increased dramatically. The researchers blame trehalose for that. It has not been proved that the chemical is the only factor to blame, but experiments on mice showed there is a correlation.

Through the barrier

However, it is not the only way food additives harm our health. Besides microbiome disruption, they can also weaken the mucus barrier found in the gut. The microbes living in the intestines are separated from the gut lining by a layer of mucus, and certain foods and substances appear to be able to pierce it, paving the way for harmful bacteria.

For instance, certain emulsifiers can erode the mucus barrier and help microbes produce inflammation-inducing proteins, thus predisposing you to diabetes, obesity and other diseases and conditions. Among these emulsifiers are carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate 80. They can be found in mayonnaise, ice cream, etc.

Splenda: not so splendid

Finally, there is a new research, which showed that Splenda, a widely used artificial sweetener comprised of sucralose and maltodextrin, can serve as a food for E. coli and weaken the mucus barrier in those with Crohn’s disease: the strain of E. coli they harbor breaks down maltodextrin more efficiently than those found in the gut of people without Crohn’s disease.

Saccharin and other substances aimed at helping people lose weight by cutting down on common sugar are also dangerous, as they can cause glucose intolerance associated with diabetes.

The dangers lurking in processed foods are becoming more and more evident. Avoiding processed foods is the best strategy to avoid exposing your body to these substances. While it’s not something to lose sleep over – we don’t want eating healthy foods to become an obsession, do we? – it’s a good idea to trade chips and soda for vegetables and fruits.

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