Alimenti naturali, processati, ultra-processati e salute: stiamo affrontando correttamente il problema sul piano metodologico?

A. Poli, G. Donegani, F. Marangoni.
Giornale Italiano dell'Arterosclerosi, 2024;15(1):54-60.

Tempo di lettura 1'

Abstract

Numerous epidemiological studies have highlighted statistically significant correlations between the intake of “ultra-processed” foods, as classified by the NOVA system, and a rising incidence of various chronic illnesses over time. Recommendations to minimize the consumption of these foods, usually industrially originated and characterized by complex technological processes and/or the addition of additives during preparation, are gaining traction in both scientific publications and media outlets.
However, the existing body of studies, all of observational nature, does not provide conclusive evidence, due to methodological constraints, that these correlations are causative. Moreover, the biological plausibility of many of such correlations is questionable, with the proposed mechanisms explaining the adverse effects of ultra-processed food consumption often being speculative. This suggests that high consumption of these foods might instead be just a marker of poor dietary and lifestyle choices.
Recent research has also shown that the links between ultra-processed food consumption and adverse health outcomes are varied. There are food groups classified by NOVA as needing limitation or avoidance due to their ultra-processed nature, yet their association with health outcomes is either neutral or beneficial.
Given this situation, we argue that the current scientific evidence is insufficient to universally classify all ultra-processed foods as detrimental to health. Such an approach may inadvertently eliminate foods from our diets that offer beneficial nutritional or functional properties. The insights from the epidemiological studies mentioned should help in planning future research, aiming to precisely identify which specific additives or specific processing methods, and through which mechanisms, might be responsible for the observed negative health associations.

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