High Consumption Of Ultra-Processed Foods Linked To Greater Mortality Risk

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A study that analyzed the data of over 540,000 older adults found that those who relied on a diet with higher amounts of ultra-processed foods were around 10% more likely to die earlier than those who followed a balanced diet.

Lead author Erikka Loftfield at Stadtman Investigator at the National Cancer Institute and colleagues observed the dietary behaviors and preferences of more than half a million older adults based in the United States aged between 50 and 71 years for close to 30 years.

“We observed that highly processed meat and soft drinks were a couple of the subgroups of ultra-processed food most strongly associated with mortality risk and eating a diet low in these foods is already recommended for disease prevention and health promotion,” Loftfield said in a press release. She presented the study findings at the American Society for Nutrition’s annual meeting, Nutrition 2024, which was held in Chicago from June 29 to July 2, 2024.

“Our study results support a larger body of literature, including both observational and experimental studies, which indicate that ultra-processed food intake adversely impacts health and longevity,” Loftfield added. “However, there is still a lot that we don’t know, including what aspects of ultra-processed foods pose potential health risks.”

Ultra-processed foods refer to industrial formulations that are manufactured from food-derived substances and contain additives and preservatives to increase their shelf life. This includes sweet or savory packaged snacks, mass-produced packaged bread, pastries, cakes, breakfast cereals, and packaged milk/fruit drinks. Ready-to-heat food items and reconstituted meat products also fall under the definition of ultra-processed products.

In a 2022 study published in The Americal Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers wrote, “The overall golden rule is always prefer unprocessed or minimally processed foods and freshly made meals to ultra-processed foods.”

The American Heart Association also recommends choosing minimally processed foods over ultra-processed foods. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are examples of minimally processed foods.

Researchers have repeatedly linked a higher intake of ultra-processed foods to lower fiber, protein, potassium, and other micronutrients. In fact, eating mostly ultra-processed foods can also increase your risk of being overweight or obese and higher chances of getting diagnosed with hypertension, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, breast cancer, liver disease, depression, or Crohn’s disease.

According to a 2024 study published in Neurology, increasing the intake of ultra-processed foods by as little as 10% is associated with an elevated risk of cognitive impairments and stroke. This is because ultra-processed foods contain additives that could wreak havoc with your gut microbiome and lead to inflammation in your gut. In case you develop a leaky gut, it will result in inflammatory molecules entering the bloodstream and traveling to the brain, thereby affecting brain function.

The study found that drastically cutting down on eating ultra-processed foods and switching to a Mediterranean diet helped in maintaining brain health.

Some other harmful ultra-processed foods to avoid on a daily basis include ham, hot dogs, frozen french fries, potato chips, packaged fruit-flavored yogurt, baking mixes, instant noodles/soups, and biscuits.

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