Food & Cooking

New Studies Link Ultra-Processed Food With Premature Death

Two independent studies in France and Spain have found that people who consume a lot of ultra-processed foods are at a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.

Mass produced packaged bread products are among the food items that fall into the caetgory of ulta-processed
Jul. 8, 2019
By Julie Al-Zoubi
Mass produced packaged bread products are among the food items that fall into the caetgory of ulta-processed

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Ultra-processed foods increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes and pre­ma­ture death, accord­ing to two major new stud­ies pub­lished in the BMJ.

The stud­ies, which were under­taken by inde­pen­dent research teams in France and Spain sug­gested that the risk of devel­op­ing a first-time heart con­di­tion, suf­fer­ing a stroke or dying pre­ma­turely were increased by a high intake of ultra-processed foods.

Con­sid­er­ing this and other stud­ies that have shown asso­ci­a­tions between ultra-processed food con­sump­tion and other health out­comes, peo­ple should limit the pro­por­tion of ultra-processed food in their diet.- Bernard Srour, researcher at the Uni­ver­sity of Paris

Par­tic­i­pants who ate the most processed foods were found to be 23-per­cent more likely to develop car­dio­vas­cu­lar con­di­tions than those who con­sumed the least.

The study in France was lead by researchers Bernard Srour and Mathilde Tou­vier from the Uni­ver­sity of Paris and fol­lowed 105,000 male and female par­tic­i­pants for five years dur­ing which their diet was assessed twice a year. More than 1,400 of the par­tic­i­pants devel­oped blocked arter­ies in the heart or suf­fered a heart attack or stroke which equated to a risk fac­tor of 23 per­cent.

Among par­tic­i­pants who con­sumed the most ultra-processed foods, the result­ing rate of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease was 277 per 100,000 peo­ple per year whilst those who ate the least had a lower rate of 242 per 100,000; indi­cat­ing that a diet rich in ultra-processed food was detri­men­tal to heart health.

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Although this was the first epi­demi­o­log­i­cal study to eval­u­ate the asso­ci­a­tion between the pro­por­tion of processed food in the diet and risk of car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­eases, ear­lier stud­ies includ­ing the Cohort Nutri-Net Santé had already raised con­cerns that ultra-processed foods were asso­ci­ated with a greater risk of devel­op­ing dis­eases includ­ing can­cer, irri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome, hyper­ten­sion, obe­sity and depres­sion, and could even be linked to pre­ma­ture death.

Con­sid­er­ing this and other stud­ies that have shown asso­ci­a­tions between ultra-processed food con­sump­tion and other health out­comes, peo­ple should limit the pro­por­tion of ultra-processed food in their diet and priv­i­lege the con­sump­tion of unprocessed and min­i­mally processed instead,” Srour told Olive Oil Times.

He was keen to point out that along with junk food many other prod­ucts fall into the cat­e­gory of ultra-processed foods includ­ing; mass pro­duced pack­aged breads and buns, pack­aged snacks, fac­tory pro­duced con­fec­tionery and desserts, sodas and sweet­ened bev­er­ages along with recon­sti­tuted meat prod­ucts such as meat­balls, poul­try and fish nuggets.

Lack of time is not an excuse; it does not take very long to use for exam­ple frozen fish and veg­eta­bles with just a hint of olive oil, salt, pep­per and thyme or spices, and a serv­ing of whole-grain pasta,” Srour said. It is deli­cious and only takes 10 min­utes to cook.”

He advised restrict­ing con­sump­tion of preser­v­a­tive-rich pack­aged foods includ­ing; instant pow­dered noo­dles and soups, pre-packed ready meals and food prod­ucts con­tain­ing high lev­els of sugar, fats and hydro­genated oils as well as mod­i­fied starches and pro­tein iso­lates.

The sec­ond study, which was under­taken in Spain by researchers from the Uni­ver­sity of Navarra, exam­ined the eat­ing habits of almost 20,000 Span­ish adults for a decade dur­ing which diet was assessed annu­ally. This study also pointed the fin­ger at a link between ultra-processed foods and shorter life spans.

Results showed that par­tic­i­pants with the high­est intakes of ultra-processed food were 62-per­cent more likely to die within 20 years than par­tic­i­pants with the low­est intake.

Dur­ing this study 335 deaths occurred and it was noted that for every 10 deaths among the group eat­ing the least amount of processed food, 16 deaths occurred among par­tic­i­pants with a diet rich in ultra-processed foods (more than four serv­ings a day), which equated to a 62 ‑per­cent increase in the risk of pre­ma­ture death. Each addi­tional serv­ing fur­ther increased the risk by 18 per­cent.

Srour advised read­ers to exam­ine the pack­ag­ing before pur­chas­ing processed foods and select prod­ucts with lower risk ingre­di­ents and higher nutri­tional value as well as steer­ing away from foods rich in sugar, salt and trans fats.

He warned against high con­sump­tion of ultra-processed prod­ucts con­tain­ing addi­tives linked to car­dio­vas­cu­lar risk and listed high doses of sul­phites (often found in ready-to-con­sume sauces), high lev­els of monosodium glu­ta­mate, (a com­mon ingre­di­ent in ready to eat noo­dles and soups) emul­si­fiers, arti­fi­cial sweet­en­ers and a thick­en­ing agent called car­rageenan as addi­tives of which to steer clear.

Srour also advised that the pack­ag­ing of ultra-processed foods may con­tain harm­ful mate­ri­als such as bisphe­nol A, which has been asso­ci­ated with an increased risk of car­diometa­bolic dis­or­ders as well as reveal­ing that a num­ber of com­pounds which are neo-formed dur­ing the pro­cess­ing of foods could be detri­men­tal to car­dio­vas­cu­lar health.





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