Researchers conducted a cohort study among female and male health workers in the United States of America between 1986 and 2010, according to a recent article published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
The researchers looked at whether eating unprocessed and minimally processed foods (UMP) and ultra-processed foods (UPF) was linked to three diet-quality metrics: the alternate healthy eating index (AHEI)-2010, the Mediterranean diet index (aMED), and the dietary approaches to stop hypertension (DASH)-diet score.
The NOVA classification system established two of the four food-processing categories, UMP and UPF. UMP foods include preservative- and additive-free veggies, nuts, fruits, whole grains, and animal-derived foods. These foods are also high in nutrients, as they contain vitamins, minerals, and mono- and polyunsaturated fats. (MUFA and PUFA, respectively).
UPF meals include ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat items such as factory-made bread, sweet and savory snacks, and sugar-sweetened beverages. UPF consumption has also been found as a risk factor for chronic diseases.
Consuming UMP foods has been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases. However, it is unclear whether UMP and UPF consumption is linked to diet-quality factors, and whether UMP and UPF intake and diet quality have changed over time.
Concerning the research
The Nurses’ Health investigation (NHS) and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) were both invited to participate in the current investigation. (HPFS).
The NHS, which began in 1986 and lasted until 2010, employed 121,700 female licensed nurses aged 30 to 55. In comparison, the HPFS, which started in 1986 and ended in 2006, included 51,529 male health professionals aged 40 to 75.
The team used a semi-quantitative food frequency questionnaire (SQFFQ) sent every four years to gather data on each participant’s diet and lifestyle to test the hypothesis that higher average diet quality scores would correlate with lower UPF and higher UMP intake over time. Every two years, all research participants submitted a mailed questionnaire on medical history and health-related behavior.
In each cycle, approximately 90% of research participants responded. Diet quality scores differed significantly among all research participants according to UMP and UPF intake quintiles, with these associations changing slightly over time. Diet quality scores increased with higher quintiles of UMP intake.
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The findings supported the theory that all diet-quality metrics were inversely related to UPF intake quintiles. When expressed as an energy percentage, changes in diet-quality measures per quintile of UMP and UPF intakes correlated with aMED.
The present study’s methodology established a link between UMP intake and diet quality metrics. Notably, none of the three diet-quality metrics evaluated in this research directly considered the level of food processing.
The unique nutrient makeup of UMP and UPF intakes and diet quality explained the association. UMP consumption provided the body with multivitamins, minerals, and unsaturated fats, which reduced the chance of non-infectious disease. The characteristics of diet-quality metrics explained the found correlation between UMP food consumption and the three evaluated diet-quality metrics.
A diet rich in UMP foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and unprocessed cereals, resulted in high aMED scores. Surprisingly, the aMED included moderate wine consumption during meals; however, the UMP and UPF categories did not include alcoholic drinks.
Overnutrition, according to the researcher, could contribute to a loss of self-tolerance by interfering with immune regulation.
There was a link found between UMP consumption and excellent diet quality, and UPF consumption and poor diet quality. Furthermore, a direct correlation was found between UMP consumption and AHEI-2010, aMED, and DASH-diet scores, while an inverse correlation was found between UPP intake and these three diet scores. The observed associations were not temporally consistent, which was attributed in part to changes in the processing categories or SQFFQ.