Many of the carbohydrates in packaged foods and refined grains cause a sharp rise in blood sugar. Plus, these carbohydrates lack the nutrient density and fiber that characterize healthier carb sources, like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Experts may argue about what diet is best for health, weight loss, and longevity, but few can deny the benefits of eliminating ultra-processed carbohydrates and sugar from the diet. It’s one of the smartest dietary decisions you can make. After a few weeks, you’ll feel better and your health will improve too. Here are six things that happen when you eliminate ultra-processed food and refined carbs from your diet.
Your Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Will Drop
Ultra-processed carbohydrates and sugar trigger a sharp rise in blood glucose and insulin. Over time, this places added stress on the pancreas to produce more insulin. If your pancreas pumps out sizeable amounts of insulin, it can burn out over time, leading to pre-diabetes and type 2 diabetes, silent health problems that often have no symptoms, especially in the early stages. Plus, a diet rich in ultra-processed carbs contributes to weight gain and obesity, another risk factor for type 2 diabetes.
In contrast, eating a diet rich in whole-food carbohydrate sources, like fruits and vegetables, may lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. But how? The high fiber content of vegetables and fruits slows their absorption from the digestive tract, making it easier for the pancreas to deal with the natural sugars in vegetables and fruits. Therefore, you get a slower rise in blood glucose and insulin and that’s better for your metabolic health.
You’ll Lose Visceral Fat
Visceral fat is the deep belly fat that builds inside our pelvic cavity, including organs like your liver. Research shows visceral fat is the riskiest to your health, as it produces inflammatory chemicals called cytokines that damage tissue. In fact, research shows a link between higher amounts of visceral fat and cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
How do you know if you have too much visceral fat? Grab a tape measure! If your waist size is larger than half your height, you’re in a higher risk zone. Ultra-processed foods and sugar are a major contributor to visceral fat. Eliminating these foods and replacing them with fiber-rich, whole food carbohydrate sources will help reduce your visceral fat burden. Combine a whole food diet with regular exercise and you have a winning formula!
You’ll Regain Energy
If you’re feeling tired and lack energy, look at your sleep habits first, but then inspect what you’re eating. Packaged foods and junk foods seem convenient, but you may pay for it with feeling drained and non-productive. Ultra-processed food gives you an initial burst of energy because of a rapid rise in blood sugar, but the initial oomph is followed by exhaustion a few hours later after blood glucose drops. Some people try to compensate by consuming more caffeine, with sugar, of course. Don’t get into this self-defeating cycle! Eliminate processed foods and sugary stuff instead.
You’ll Feel Less Hungry
Healthy carbohydrate sources that your intestinal tract absorbs in a slow, controlled manner leads to more sustained energy. In contrast, sugar foods and refined carbohydrates cause a rapid rise in blood sugar followed by a sharp fall. The same drop in blood sugar that makes you feel tired also makes you feel hungry. How can you feel your best and get anything done when you’re ravenous and exhausted?
Your Microbiome Will Thank You
You need a healthy gut for better absorption of nutrients and for immune health. The healthy bacteria that make up your gut microbiome thrive on fiber, a dietary component that ultra-processed foods lack. These foods are manufactured and processed in a way that removes fiber and also adds unhealthy additives, salt, and sugar. Some studies also show that emulsifiers in ultra-processed foods disrupt the gut microbiome in an unhealthy manner. It’s clear that diet is the fundamental factor that affects the health of your gut microbiome and bacteria thrive on fiber.
You’ll Lose Weight
If you’re struggling to lose weight, it may not be how much you’re eating but what you’re putting on your plate. We now know that the composition of the calories we eat is as important as the quantity. The nutrient density and how high on the glycemic scale the food you take in is affects how your hormones respond and that makes a difference for weight control. This theory of weight gain is called the hormone hypothesis, and it’s gaining favor. Ultra-processed foods raise insulin levels more than fiber-rich whole foods. Since insulin blocks fat breakdown and promote fat storage, higher insulin works against weight loss.
Even if you don’t subscribe to the hormone hypothesis as an explanation for weight gain, the fact that minimizing ultra-processed foods scales back hunger is an argument for consuming less processed fare if you’re trying to lose weight. You may not ditch junk food all at once. Progressively scaling back is often easier. Replace a few of your current junk food meals and snacks with whole foods and gradually increase the ratio of whole foods to ultra-processed foods. Your body adapts best to gradual changes rather than a complete and sudden overhaul.
The Bottom Line
Now you know how your physical and mental health can benefits from scaling back on ultra-processed foods. Whole foods are more nutritious, and they retain fiber, a dietary component most people don’t get enough of. In fact, research shows the average person only gets half the recommended quantity of fiber daily. So, punt the ultra-processed fare and enjoy you’ll discover some unexpected health benefits.
- J Nutr Sci. 2020; 9: e14.Published online 2020 Apr 2. doi: 10.1017/jns.2020.7.
- Curr Obes Rep. 2017 Dec; 6(4): 420–431. doi: 10.1007/s13679-017-0285-4.
- com. “What Makes You Fat: Too Many Calories, or the Wrong Carbohydrates?”
- 2020 Mar;71:110609. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2019.110609. Epub 2019 Oct 11.
- Nutr Bull. 2019 Dec; 44(4): 329–349. Published online 2019 Nov 25. doi: 10.1111/nbu.12408.