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- A study has found a link between eating ultra-processed foods and dying earlier.
- Ultra-processed foods go through processes like heating and are often full of additives.
- They include ready-to-heat meals and hotdogs, burgers, and fries.
- Over half of what we eat could be ultra-processed.
- A good way to cut back is to cook more meals at home.
A major study has just found a link between eating ultra-processed foods – like microwave meals, pizza, burgers, and fries – and dying earlier.
The research from France, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, involved monitoring the diets of 44,000 people between 2009 and 2017. The results showed that people faced a 14% higher risk of early death with every extra 10% of ultra-processed foods they ate.
Most of the participants were over the age of 45, and the majority were female. Every six months they were asked to fill out surveys about everything they consumed in 24 hours. After seven years of being followed, 602 people had died – 219 from cancer and 34 from cardiovascular disease.
“An increase in ultra-processed foods consumption appears to be associated with an overall higher mortality risk among this adult population,” the researchers wrote in their conclusion. “Further prospective studies are needed to confirm these findings and to disentangle the various mechanisms by which ultra-processed foods may affect health.”
The results were self-reported, which can be inaccurate. But observational studies are the only option when it comes to assessing the impact of dietary differences because it would be unethical to ask a group of people only to eat ultra-processed foods, which are rich in fat and salt and low in fiber.
Over half of what we eat could be ‘ultra-processed’
A recent study found that 61% of an adult’s diet in the US, 62% in Canada, and 63% in the UK came from ultra-processed foods. To be defined as “ultra-processed” food goes through several processes, including being heated to high temperatures, and the addition of chemicals like emulsifiers and texturizers. Many foods you buy and stick in the oven fall into this category.
According to The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the more ultra-processed food we eat, the worse our diet. One way to cut back is to cook more meals at home, and eat with friends because studies have shown that people who dine together eat better.
Restaurant meals can be fresh and healthy too, the Foundation said on its website, but “challenge yourself to fill half your plate with vegetables wherever you dine, and choose items that are baked, poached, stir-fried or grilled rather than deep-fried.”
Ultra-processed foods are disproportionately consumed by lower-income people, Professor Nita Forouhi from Cambridge University’s School of Clinical Medicine told Medical Xpress.
“Consumption of highly processed foods reflects social inequalities – they are consumed disproportionately more by individuals with lower incomes or education levels, or those living alone,” she said.
“Such foods are attractive because they tend to be cheaper, are highly palatable due to high sugar, salt and saturated fat content, are widely available … More needs to be done to address these inequalities.”