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December 7, 2021 •

Processed Food & Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Consuming ultra-processed foods appears to be a major risk factor for inflammatory bowel disease or “IBD.” In a new report adding to the growing pile of studies linking processed foods to major health risks, scientists uncovered a clear link between consuming this dubious fare and ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, both of which have dramatically escalated in the US in the past 20 years. 

For this evaluation, an international team of scientists followed the dietary habits and the health status of 116,087 adults ages 35-70 from a broad range of countries over a 10-year period. Those consuming five or more servings of ultra-processed foods a day were 82% more likely to develop IBD vs. those consuming less than one serving a day. What’s more, even minimal intake of processed food was tied to notably higher risk, with a 67% increase in those consuming 1-4 servings a day. 

The ultra-processed foods included soft drinks, refined sweetened foods, salty snacks, and processed meats. In contrast, the intake of real foods— poultry, fish, unprocessed red meat, dairy, unprocessed starches (grains, root vegetables, etc.), fruits, vegetables, and legumes (peas, beans, and lentils) were not linked with IBD.

These findings are telling and should serve as a major wake-up call. Currently 61% of the calories consumed in America come from ultra-processed foods. Please take note for yourself and your loved ones!

As a devoted nutrition professional and physician, if you asked me for the single most valuable piece of advice I could offer you to protect your health, I would say stay away from processed foods. As a trusty guide, before you eat a food, ask yourself if your great, great grandmother could have eaten it or prepared it in her own kitchen. If the answer is no—don’t eat it.


BMJ, 2021; n1554 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.n1554