The following is excerpted from an online article posted by ScienceDaily.
Certain ultra-processed foods, such as candy, pastries, and frozen desserts, may be “gateway” foods for adolescents, leading them to eat higher quantities of other unhealthy foods, according to new research.
The research suggests that reducing the consumption of key gateway foods may make an impact in the overall consumption of ultra-processed foods, which are high in sugar, salt, unhealthy trans fat, and artificial flavors and colors. Ultra-processed foods such as bread, cereals, desserts, sodas, and processed meats comprise more than 60% of the calories Americans eat each day. Previous research has linked high consumption of ultra-processed foods with hypertension, weight gain, increased risk of heart disease, and premature death.
“Ultra-processed foods are designed to be hyper-palatable, or engineered to be as addictive as possible,” said Maria Balhara, lead researcher of this study and a student at Broward College in Davie, Florida. “They’re also cheap and convenient, which makes them hard to resist. Most people are eating too many of these foods without realizing it.”
Balhara gathered data on how frequently adolescents consumed 12 ultra-processed food products during the previous 8 weeks. Ultra-processed foods included prepackaged cookies, candy, chips, chocolate, energy drinks, frozen desserts, soda, store-bought pastries, store-bought smoothies, syrup-sweetened coffee or tea, white bread and processed meat. Study participants included 315 teens, ages 13-19 recruited from 12 high schools in South Florida between February and April 2022. Their scores for 2022 consumption were compared to their scores for estimated 2019 pre-pandemic consumption.
Candy, prepackaged pastries and frozen desserts were found to act as a possible “gateway” to drive increased (or decreased) consumption of other processed food products. Teenagers who changed their consumption of these “gateway” foods were more likely to change their consumption of all other ultra-processed foods as well.
The analysis found that among the identified gateway foods:
- increased consumption frequency of frozen desserts was associated with an 11% increase in consumption of all other ultra-processed foods;
- increased consumption of pastries was associated with a 12% increase in consumption of all other ultra-processed foods; and
- increased consumption of candy was associated with a 31% increase in consumption of all other ultra-processed foods.
“For teenagers whose consumption of ultra-processed foods has not yet been established, certain gateway foods such as candy, store-bought pastries and frozen desserts should be avoided, since increased consumption of these foods appears to lead to increased consumption of other processed foods,” Balhara said.
“The good news,” she adds, “is that even small changes, such as reducing how often you eat a few gateway foods, may reduce overall consumption of unhealthy foods and have a big impact on your overall health.”
The study was presented at the American Heart Association’s Hypertension Scientific Sessions 2022, Sept. 7-10, 2022, in San Diego, CA.