Diets Heavy in Ultra-processed Foods Linked to Earlier Death: Study

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Key Takeaways

  • Ultra-processed foods appear to increase people’s risk of death

  • People who ate more ultra-processed foods had a higher risk of death than those who ate the least

  • Deaths related to heart disease and diabetes were particularly more likely

MONDAY, July 1, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- People who eat more ultra-processed foods are more likely to suffer an early death, particularly from heart disease or diabetes, a new study warns.

Older adults who consume higher amounts of ultra-processed foods are about 10% more likely to die than those who eat less processed foods, over an average 23-year follow-up.

In particular, soft drinks and highly processed meats like hot dogs, sausages and deli cold cuts are “most strongly associated with mortality risk,” said researcher Erikka Loftfield, an investigator with the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

“Eating a diet low in these foods is already recommended for disease prevention and health promotion,” Loftfield added in an NCI news release.

Ultra-processed foods are made mostly from substances extracted from whole foods, like saturated fats, starches and added sugars.

These products also contain a wide variety of additives to make them more tasty, attractive and shelf-stable, including colors, emulsifiers, flavors and stabilizers.

Examples include packaged baked goods, sugary cereals, ready-to-eat or ready-to-heat products and deli meat.

For this study, researchers analyzed data from more than 540,000 people ages 50 to 71 regarding their eating habits and their health. The data was gathered in the mid-1990s; more than half of the participants have subsequently died.

Even after accounting for other health risk factors, researchers found that people who consumed the highest levels of ultra-processed food were more likely to die early than people who ate the least.

Ultra-processed food specifically increased the risk of death related to heart disease or diabetes, but not cancer.

“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 said.

“However, there is still a lot that we don’t know, including what aspects of ultra-processed foods pose potential health risks,” Loftfield added.

Researchers presented the findings at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition in Chicago. Such research should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

Harvard Medical School has more about ultra-processed foods.

SOURCE: American Society for Nutrition, news release, June 30, 2024

What This Means For You

People should try to eat as little ultra-processed food as possible, to improve their health.

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