These ultra-processed foods can shorten your life, says study


Eating higher levels of ultra-processed food can shorten lifespan by more than 10%, according to a new, unpublished study of more than 500,000 people that researchers followed for nearly three decades.

The risk went to 15% for men and 14% for women after the data were adjusted, said lead study author Erikka Loftfield, an investigator at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

Asked about their consumption of 124 foods, people in the 90th percentile of ultra-processed food consumption said ultra-processed beverages topped their list.

Diet soft drinks were the main contributor to ultra-processed food consumption. The second was sugary sodas, Loftfield said. Beverages are a very important component of the diet and contribution to ultra-processed food.

Refined grains such as ultra-processed bread and baked goods rank next in popularity, the study found.

This is another large, long-term cohort study that confirms the link between UPF (ultra-processed food) intake and all-cause mortality, especially from cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, said Carlos Monteiro, professor emeritus of the nutrition and public health at the University of Brazil. of So Paulo, in an email.

Monteiro coined the term ultra-processed food and created the NOVA food classification system, which looks beyond nutrients to how foods are produced. Monteiro was not involved in the study, but several members of the NOVA classification system were co-authors.

The NOVA classification system ranks foods from minimally processed whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, to processed foods such as deli meats and sausages to ultra-processed. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, ultra-processed foods contain ingredients that are never or rarely used in cuisines, or classes of additives whose function is to make the final product palatable or more appealing.

The list of additives includes preservatives to resist mold and bacteria; emulsifiers to prevent separation of incompatible components; artificial dyes and colors; anti-foam, bleaching, bleaching, gelling and polishing agents; and added or altered sugar, salt, and fat designed to make food palatable.

Health risks associated with processed meats and soft drinks

The preliminary study, presented Sunday at the American Association for Nutrition’s annual meeting in Chicago, analyzed dietary data collected in 1995 from nearly 541,000 Americans ages 50 to 71 who were participating in the National Institutes of Health’s US AARP Diet and Health Study.

The researchers linked dietary data to death rates over the next 20 to 30 years. Compared to those in the 10% ultra-processed food intake, people who ate the most processed food were more likely to die from heart disease or diabetes, according to the study. However, unlike other studies, the researchers found no increase in cancer-related deaths.

Some ultra-processed foods carried more risk than others, Loftfield said: Highly processed meat and soft drinks were among the subsets of ultra-processed foods most strongly associated with mortality risk.

Diet drinks are considered ultra-processed food because they contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame potassium and stevia, and additional additives not found in whole foods. Diet drinks have been linked to a higher risk of early death from cardiovascular disease, as well as dementia, type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke and metabolic syndrome, which can lead to heart disease and diabetes. .

The US Dietary Guidelines for Americans already recommends limiting sugar-sweetened beverages, which have been linked to premature death and the development of chronic diseases. A March 2019 study found that women who drank more than two servings a day of sugary drinks, defined as a standard glass, bottle or can, had a 63% higher risk of premature death compared to women who drank less. than once a month. Men who did the same had a 29% increased risk.

Processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages, bacon, deli meats, cured meats and deli meats are also not recommended; Studies have linked red and processed meat to bowel and stomach cancer, heart disease, diabetes and early death from all causes.

Evidence from this new study shows that processed meat can be one of the unhealthiest foods, but people don’t tend to see bacon or chicken nuggets as UPF (ultra-processed food), said Rosie Green, a professor of environment, food and health in London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, in a statement. She was not involved in the study.

The study found that people who consumed the most ultra-processed food were younger and heavier and had an overall poorer diet than those who ate the least ultra-processed food. However, the increased health risk cannot be explained by these differences, because even people with normal weight and the best diets were also at risk of early death from ultra-processed foods, the study found.

Experts say that consumption of ultra-processed food has doubled since this study was conducted.

A major limitation of the study was that dietary data was collected only once about 30 years ago, Green said: It’s hard to say how dietary habits may have changed between then and now.

The production of ultra-processed foods has exploded since the mid-1990s, however, with estimates that nearly 60% of the average American’s daily calories come from ultra-processed foods. This is not surprising, considering that 70% of the food in any grocery store may be ultra-processed.

If anything, we are probably underestimating ultra-processed food consumption in our study because we were too conservative, Loftfield said. The intake has likely only increased over the years.

In fact, a study published in May that found similar results—a higher risk of premature death and death from cardiovascular disease in more than 100,000 health professionals who ate ultra-processed foods—had access to ultra-processed food intake every day. four years and found that consumption doubled between the mid-1980s and 2018. .

For example, daily intake of savory packaged foods and dairy-based desserts like ice cream has essentially doubled since the 1990s, said lead author of the May study, Dr. Mingyang Song, associate professor of clinical epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard University’s TH Chan School of Public Health.

In our study, as in this new one, the positive association was driven primarily by several subgroups, including processed meat and sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened beverages, Song said. However, all categories of ultra-processed foods were associated with increased risk.

Choosing more minimally processed foods is one way to limit ultra-processed foods in your diet, Loftfield said.

We really need to focus on eating diets that are rich in whole foods, she said. And if the food is ultra-processed, then look to see the levels of sodium and added sugars and try to make the best decision possible by using the nutrition facts label.

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