Are Processed Foods Messing with Your Immune System?

The Relationship between Processed Foods and Autoimmune Disorders

Researchers suggest that eating processed foods weakens the intestines and increases risk for autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, celiac disease and multiple sclerosis.

In findings published in Autoimmune Reviews, researchers presented evidence that processed foods weaken intestinal defense against bacteria, toxins and foreign elements.

Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s healthy cells, mistaking them for harmful invaders. This can lead to breakdown of normal body tissue and increased risk of abnormal organ growth.

Processed foods are defined by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “any food other than a raw agricultural commodity and includes any raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing, such as canning, cooking, freezing, dehydration or milling.” This includes other forms of processing foods as well (cheese, breakfast cereals, canned fruits and vegetables, bread, savory snacks and meats, such as bacon and sausages). All these are examples of foods that have been subject to some form of processing.

 Spectrum of Processed Foods – Minimal to Maximal

  • Minimally processed foods (bagged spinach or cut vegetables) are often simply pre-prepped for convenience.

Mid-Range Processed

  • Foods processed at their peak to seal in freshness and nutritional quality. This includes canned tomatoes, frozen fruit and vegetables, and canned tuna.

Heavily Processed

  • Foods with ingredients added for flavor and texture (sweeteners, spices, oils, colors and preservatives) include jarred pasta sauce, salad dressing, yogurt and cake mixes.
  • The most heavily processed foods are often microwave foods, instant foods and pre-made meals, such as frozen pizza and TV dinners. This includes ready-to-eat brand foods.
  • Processed meats, hot dogs, salami and other cured meats.

Regarding digestive inflammation, researchers found at least seven common food additives that weaken the tight-junctions: (1) glucose (sugars); (2) sodium (salt); (3) fat solvents (emulsifiers); (4) organic acids; (5) gluten; (6) microbial transglutaminase (a special enzyme that serves as food protein “glue”) and (7) nanometric particles.

According to Professor Aaron Lerner, “Control and enforcement agencies, such as the FDA, stringently supervise the pharmaceutical industry, but the food additive market remains unsupervised. We hope this study and similar studies increase awareness about the dangers inherent in industrial food additives, and raise awareness about the need for control over them.”



* Prof. Aaron Lerner, of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel, and Dr. Torsten Matthias, of the Aesku-Kipp Institute in Germany