“Ultra-processed” foods and beverages increase risk of disease and early death; eating more whole foods is key to improving overall health
02/18/2020 // Zoey Sky // Views

What do chips, cookies and pizza have in common? Researchers consider all of them to be ultra-processed foods.

And according to two studies published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), a diet full of ultra-processed foods increases your risk of both heart disease and early death.

Junk food consumption increases risk of diseases

The BMJ studies followed groups of people in France and Spain and found that the participants who consumed more factory-made foods had a higher risk of heart disease and early death, respectively.

In an email to CNN, Maira Bes-Rastrollo, senior author of the Spanish study and professor of preventive medicine and public health at the Universidad de Navarra, said that the results are alarming because highly processed foods make up over 50 percent of the total dietary energy consumed in high-income countries like Canada, the US and the UK.

Bes-Rastrollo added that in Spain, the consumption of ultra-processed food almost tripled from 1990 to 2010.

High consumption of ultra-processed foods can lead to premature death

For the study conducted in Spain, Bes-Rastrollo and her fellow researchers followed about 20,000 participants aged 20 to 91 from 1999 to 2014.

The scientists asked the volunteers detailed questions about their diet every two years. Their findings revealed that the people who consumed over four servings of ultra-processed foods daily were 62 percent more likely to die early. Each extra serving of ultra-processed food eaten increased the risk by 18 percent.

Bes-Rastrollo noted that their findings were in line with those from other studies in France and the US, proving that ultra-processed foods are harmful to your health.


High consumption of ultra-processed foods raises heart disease risk

In the French study, scientists from the University of Paris followed over 105,000 individuals for more than five years.

The results showed that every 10 percent increase in the amount of highly processed foods someone ate was linked to a 12 percent increase in their risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases.

While the difference in outcome between low- and high-processed diets wasn't significant, study findings suggest that there could be 277 cases of heart disease for every 100,000 people who's diet included a lot of ultra-processed foods, compared to 242 cases for every 100,000 people who didn't.

Study author Mathilde Touvier said that the difference is enough to warrant dietary changes, like avoiding ultra-processed snacks. She added that following a balanced diet is best for maintaining overall health.

Unprocessed, processed and ultra-processed foods

For the studies, scientists classified foods using the NOVA classification system. This means foods were sorted into four categories, depending on how they are made.

Unprocessed or minimally processed foods include:

  • Eggs
  • Fish and seafood
  • Fruits
  • Grains (e.g., rice and pasta)
  • Legumes
  • Meats
  • Milk
  • Natural juice
  • Poultry
  • Vegetables
  • Yogurt

Processed foods include:

  • Bacon
  • Beer
  • Bread
  • Cheeses
  • Cured traditional ham
  • Wine

Processed ingredients include:

Ultra-processed foods include:

  • Artificially sweetened beverages
  • Chocolates and candies
  • Chorizo
  • Cookies
  • Flan
  • Mayonnaise
  • Potato chips
  • Pizza
  • Sausages
  • Whiskey, gin and rum

Highly processed foods contain added ingredients like fat, salt and sugar, along with potentially harmful artificial colors or preservatives.

A BMJ editorial published alongside the two studies indicates that these highly processed foods are bad for your health because they increase your risk of developing cancer. Editorial authors Mark A. Lawrence and Phillip I. Baker advised that the best thing to do is limit or avoid highly processed food altogether and consume more unprocessed or minimally processed foods.

It's easy to overeat ultra-processed foods because they're more palatable than their healthier counterparts, but the former has little to no nutritional value and can only contribute to unwanted weight gain, or worse. While highly processed foods contain food additives that are tested for safety individually, eating them in combination may have negative side effects.

Are you willing to risk your health over a can of soda and a bag of chips? Find out more adverse effects of eating junk foods at JunkFood.news.

Sources include:



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