Hyperultramega processed foods
(No. 37) Long telomeres make better livers
But first, this: a researcher has composed a Twitter thread highlighting what he says are the beneficial effects of Vitamin D on Covid-19
Drop the Flaming Cheetos
These telomeres look like Flaming Cheetos, but they are vital to longevity; in truth, eating Flaming Cheetos damages telomeres, leading to faster aging of cells. Photo by By U.S. Department of Energy Human Genome Program
Telomeres are proteins that hang off the end of chromosomes. They look like Cheetos. Short telomeres are a clear sign of cellular aging. Real Cheetos and other ultraprocessed foods might make it more likely that your telomeres will look old, according to a new study from the University of Navarra, in Spain.
On my road trip through the pandemic I have discovered a clash in the food aisles of gas station Kwik Shops and Circle K’s. Not the clash of a clerk threatening my life in an unhinged enactment of a future throttling. But the clash between mere processed foods, like buttered rolls wrapped in plastic, and the ultraprocessed foods that might survive months in the desert heat on the dashboard of my truck. The former could almost be considered health foods in comparison to the latter. But they aren’t nearly as enticing as the super-engineered snacks.
The Spanish study speculates that these ultraprocessed foods, such as Pop-Tarts (a personal, if rarely consumed, favorite that kindles in me some little understood 1970s desires), Flaming Cheetos and bottled Starbucks Frappuccinos are likely to increase the rate at which telomeres shorten, thus speeding the aging process.
That’s a Cheeto, in flames, at my campsite in North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
So what makes something ultraprocessed? These foods are industrially made, and include oils, fats, sugars, starch and other processed ingredients, with few if any whole foods. They’re colored, thickened, flavored, preserved and otherwise altered to give them the desired taste and shelf life. They usually contain a lot of chemicals. Most Americans are never more than a few minutes away from a store that sells this stuff.
In contrast, simple processed foods are made by adding salt, sugar, oil and other ingredients to preserve certain foods like canned tuna, olives, and even breads. These foods usually don’t contain more than a handful of ingredients, while the ultraprocessed foods usually contain a mouth stew of hard to pronounce ingredients.
The Spanish study speculates that eating three or more servings of ultraprocessed food a day doubles the chance that a person’s telomeres will be shorter than if they hadn’t eaten the junk. Telomeres don’t carry DNA, but they help chromosomes do their work.
Their isn’t definitive proof of a relationship between ultraprocessed food and short telomeres. Yet mere speculation might be reason enough to avoid junk food. There’s a reason they call it junk. We already know that these foods increase the risk of other life-shortening problems, like diabetes and cancer. The telomere effect is just an added perk.
Kinder Eggs with Cottage Cheese
How to Make Healthy Junk Food (satirical).
Three good things to know
The last thing you want to think about, but one of the first things you should consider as you age.
This photo reflects pretty much how I feel at this moment. I think I need more meditation and reading in my life, and less time with my phone. Illustration by Stephen P. Williams
See you again in two weeks! And feel free to let me know about any topics you’d like me to address. Stephen@stephenpwilliams.com