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Researchers study what cheap food is doing to us

Growing public awareness of the relationship between food and health has been a boon for the natural foods industry. Consumers are becoming increasingly educated about how food is produced, how to read labels and what exactly is in the foods they’re buying and feeding to their families—all trends that have driven sales of natural foods. Now, findings from a recent study may provide additional fodder for the natural industry to tout its offerings.

The federally subsidized agricultural commodities—corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, dairy and livestock—are often turned into refined, packaged foods; high-calorie juices or corn syrup-sweetened soft drinks; and high-fat meat and dairy products. And eating too many of these foods, the research team suggests, can boost risk for heart disease and other health problems. Eating a diet with more varied and less processed foods, meanwhile, was associated with less of those risks—meaning there’s plenty of room in more consumers’ diets to eat the whole-grain, low-glycemic, dairy-free, vegan, paleo, fruit-juice-sweetened, kale-infused and pulse-based foods that natural foods brands have to offer.

In the study, researchers found a connection between people who get more of their calories from subsidized food commodities and an elevated risk for heart health problems. More specifically, the people who ate the most subsidized food had a 37 percent higher risk of being obese and a 41 percent higher risk of having belly fat; they were also more likely to have abnormal cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

The study authors wrote, "Although eating fewer subsidized foods will not eradicate obesity, our results suggest that individuals whose diets consist of a lower proportion of subsidized foods have a lower probability of being obese."

A related paper looking at different dietary fats found that replacing 5 percent of saturated-fat calories with equivalent polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats was associated with a 27 percent and 13 percent reduced risk of death, respectively.

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