Ultra-processed Foods Could Increase the Risk of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

According to scientists from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study, eating processed foods increases your risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The researchers also said the issue is connected to how these foods are processed.

This article will examine the science behind these claims and what it means for your health.

How Was The Research Conducted?

An international team of researchers collated detailed dietary information from 116,087 adults ages 35 to 70 residing in 21 low, middle, and high-income countries. The study was conducted between 2003 and 2016, with self-reported assessments completed at least every 3 years.

Over an average assessment of nearly 10 years, 467 participants developed IBD (337 with ulcerative colitis and 90 with Crohn’s disease)

Other significant findings from the study include:

● A 67 percent increased risk of IBD with one to four servings of ultra-processed food daily.
● An 82 percent increased risk of IBD with five or more servings of ultra-processed food daily.

The results were also consistent for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. However, researchers noted that results relied on self-reported diagnoses and didn’t consider dietary changes over time.

What Does The Research Mean?

Despite the study’s limitations and the need for more research, nutrition experts said this isn’t the only time processed or ultra-processed foods have been connected to gut issues.

Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RDN, said ultra-processed foods lack ingredients and are full of additives, affecting the brain so that the person consuming them could find it difficult to control portions.

Previous research also supports the belief that eating a diet higher in processed foods means consuming more calories on average than eating fewer processed foods. Diets high in processed foods have also been linked to a higher risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and early death.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics explains different processed food levels to watch out for. These include:

● Foods processed at their peak, such as canned tomatoes and frozen fruit
● Ultra-processed foods such as microwaveable dinners and frozen pizza.
● Heavily processed foods such as granola and crackers
● Minimally processed foods such as cut vegetables and bagged spinach


If ultra-processed foods are already a major part of your diet, you can slowly shift your default eating habits to whole, nutrient-dense foods. You can also try whole foods with minimal ingredients or focus on cooking more.