Ultra-Processed Foods Are Proof of Just How Important Epigenetics Is

As scientific research links UPFs to cognitive decline, it’s time to employ positive epigenetics.

5 Minute ReadNews by Jessica Lacey

10.07.24

Academic research has given us plenty of insight into how detrimental ultra-processed foods are to our health and life-expectancies. UPFs have been directly linked to numerous chronic illnesses, most recently an association with negatively impacting our brain health.

And yet, UPFs are now an overwhelming mainstay in our global diet. One 2019 study reports that ultra-processed foods already make up more than half of the total dietary energy consumed in high-income countries such as the USA, Canada and the UK. A further US study found that more than 70% of the food supply in the U.S.A consists of ultra-processed foods, whilst the British Medical Journal reports that though 57% of the average UK diet is made up of UPF, among children and poorer people, it can be as high as 80%.

Ultra-processed foods reduce brain health

It comes as a surprise to no-one that UPFs are the antithesis of brain food. In May 2024, the American Academy of Neurology published findings of a compelling association between UPFs and impaired cognitive function and memory loss. “We found that increased consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of both stroke and cognitive impairment, and the association between ultra-processed foods and stroke was greater among Black participants,” says study author W. Taylor Kimberly, MD, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The brain may only make up 2% of our body weight, but it requires a whopping 20% of the body’s energy to function. Experts are unanimous that we need to pay attention to what we eat in order to support the brain and enjoy mental productivity, focus, concentration and memory in the years ahead.

healthy brain happy brain

What are ultra-processed foods vs processed foods?

There is an important distinction to be made between processed foods and ultra-processed foods. Although whole foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds, organic meat, fish, eggs, legumes and pulses are the optimal nutritional intake, due to the food being left in its entirely natural state, processed foods can also make up a good balanced diet.

Processed foods are categorized as anything that’s had a process applied to it which includes cooking, juicing, canning, fermenting, drying and sterilizing. ‘Processed’ also includes all dairy products such as cheese, cream and yogurt as well as oils, so they aren’t necessarily bad for our health. Ultra-processed foods however, are the most processed foods you can buy. “What makes ultra-processed foods distinctive is that they have gone through industrial processes that have changed the nature of the original ingredients, leaving little, if any, of the original whole food behind,” the Soil Association reports. “They are typically ready-to-consume or heat up, and are fatty, salty or sugary and depleted in dietary fiber, offering little to no nutritional value.”


The best way to identify UPFs:

  • Most UPFS will have an ingredient list of five or more ingredients.

  • UPF ingredients lists commonly include colourings, flavorings, artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers, modified starches or stabilizers.

  • UPFs are foods you wouldn't be able to recreate in your kitchen


These UPFs may well surprise you:

  • Supermarket sourdough

  • Fruit yogurts

  • Big brand hummus

  • Protein balls

  • Granola bars

  • Lentil crisps

  • Frozen blended coffees

  • Pre-packaged sushi

  • Gin and tonic

fruits are good foods but yogurt is processed

How ultra-processed foods impact long-term health

Most of us were introduced to the UPF conversation courtesy of the zeitgeist book Ultra-Processed People: The Science Behind Food That Isn't Food by Chris van Tullek, which seemed to keep everyone up at night. “There is now significant evidence that these products inflame the gut, disrupt appetite regulation, alter hormone levels and cause myriad other effects which likely increase the risk of cardiovascular and other disease much in the same way that smoking does,” Chris van Tullek writes.

Consequent scientific research lays high blood pressure, hypertension, increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease and vascular dementia at UPF’s door.

“Life expectancy fell first in the US and then in Great Britain too, and it’s no coincidence that these are the two countries with the greatest penetration of ultra-processed foods (UPF),” Professor Paul Clayton, world-leading expert in the fast-developing science of preventative aging and LYMA Director of Science.

“UPFs accelerate the aging process and are implicated in raising the risk of Type 2 diabetes and other age-related conditions. Most of the chronic degenerative diseases are in fact the result of chronic dysnutrition. If you have good nutrition, most of them never occur,” says Clayton, whose book, Let Your Food Be Your Pharmaco-Nutrition, The New Road to Health, Healing and Happiness, is the ultimate guide to longevity eating.

LYMA secondary foods model dog beach

Ultra-processed foods demonstrate the power of epigenetics

If you know about ultra-processed foods, then you’ve already heard about epigenetics. Epigenetics is the science of how the activity of your genes fluctuates in response to external factors; including food, stress levels, hormones, pollution, even your workout regime. Though certainly a highly negative example of epigenetics in action, UPFs do show us all how vital these external factors are to your long term health.

In direct contrast, there's a wealth of positive epigenetic action to be taken to get us dodging disease and living healthier for longer. Sirtuins genes are the enzymes that repair DNA and optimizing them is considered next-level epigenetics. “Sirtuins combat cellular inflammation, increase metabolism and make the body work more efficiently, so as to age slower. You can make lifestyle choices to increase your sirtuin activity, be that through nutrition, exercise, mindset, skincare or evidence based supplementation dosed at clinical levels,” says Professor Paul Clayton.

LYMA secondary non processed foods

Use epigenetics to live younger

  1. Learn to prepare dishes made from basic produce and eat (or eat more of), wild oily fish, berry fruits, olives, legumes and whole grains.  “Eating this anti-inflammatory diet would support a healthy microbiome and if you were to do all these things, the evidence indicates that your risk of degenerative disease would be reduced by 80-90%,” Professor Clayton advises.


  2. Ignore your ‘five a day’, a study by The British and American Gut Project, has proven that we need to eat between 30 and 50 plants a week for a truly diverse gut microbiome and overall better health.


  3. Consume anything with 5+ ingredients in moderation and if you couldn't cook it yourself in theory, it’s probably not meant for you. “My golden rule for eating is that I don’t eat anything with an ingredient in it that I wouldn’t have in my kitchen cupboards. It keeps my nutrition on track and well away from processed foods,” says Lucy Goff.


  4. Time Restricted Fasting, ice baths and HIIT all trigger epigenetic shifts to revive biological youth.


As the number one Welltech brand, LYMA offers a full 360 protocol of epigenetic wellness. The LYMA Laser, Skincare and Supplement are the complete ecosystem of extending your healthspan and optimizing your body, skin and life right this moment and years into the future.

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