Processed Foods Might Cause Diseases and Premature Death


Two different pieces of research issued in The BMJ connected the consume of factory-made foods to a growing risk of cardiovascular diseases and also an increased liability of early death. These ultra-processed foods include dehydrated soups, pre-prepared food which can be found in the grocery store freezers, packaged baked fare, ice cream, sugary cereals, and fizzy drinks.

Researchers of both studies state that prior researches have linked ultra-processed food intake with increased risks of obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and even different types of cancer. These foods are already consumed in high quantities, more precise, they make up more than half of the total food energy consumed in countries like USA, Canada, and the U.K., said Maira Bes-Rastrollo, senior author of the paper and professor of preventive medicine and public health at the Universidad de Navarra in Spain.

Processed foods could increase the risks of premature death

Researchers collected data from about 20,000 attendees in the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra study which observe university graduate volunteers from the age of 20 to 91 via biannual ​questionnaires. The study calculated how often people consumed food in the four food divisions created by the NOVA classification system.

In the category of ‘unprocessed or minimally processed’ foods were included fruits, vegetables, legumes, eggs, milk, yogurt, grains, natural juice, poultry, fish, and seafood. The ‘processed ingredients’ hold salt, sugar, butter, lard, and olive oil. The third category, the ‘processed foods’ has in it cheeses, bread, wine, beer, cured ham, and bacon. The last division comprises ‘ultra-processed’ foods, which are flan, chorizo, sausages, potato chips, pizza, cookies, mayonnaise, chocolate, candies, artificially sweetened drinks, whiskey, rum, and gin.

Overall, the items in the last category are saturated in poor quality fat, extra sugar, and salt, have a low vitamin mass and fiber packing. The nightmare is that these products are replacing the unprocessed and the barest processed foods and also the freshly cooked foods in our diets, Bes-Rastrollo explained.

Observing the information they collected, the team discovered that a higher intake of ultra-processed foods, which means over four servings per day, was linked to a 62 percent increased risk for early death. The new research also said that every extra meal of these heavily processed foods grows the risk by 18 percent.

Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases due to ultra-processed foods

The NutriNet-Santé​ project, conducted in France, is an online project, focusing on nutrition and health. The project gathered information for research on the possible impacts of industrial fares. Over 105,000 people volunteered.

The analysis consisted of labeling participants’ consumed food and then made an average score of each volunteer’s food consumption. The study disclosed the fact that 17.6 percent of men’s overall food intake consists of ultra-processed foods, while women scored 17.3 percent. The team then made a comparison between the volunteers’ groups based on the quantity of heavily processed foods they consumed.

The team discovered that every 10 percent addition in the portion of heavily processed foods people consumed was directly linked to a 12 percent, 13 percent, and 11 percent increase in the risk of cardiovascular, coronary heart and cerebrovascular diseases. Another assay, which was part of the same study disclosed a link between unprocessed of lowly processed foods and lower rates of the same illnesses.

The takeaway

People need to cut on their intake of processed and ultra-processed foods in order to improve their health and increase the quantities of unprocessed foods in their diets.

Gunter Kuhnle, a biochemist and associate professor of nutrition and health at the University of Reading, in the United Kingdom said that the studies mentioned above are well and conscientiously made. Kuhnle was not implicated in these studies; however, the said that NOVA classification is not quite ‘specific nor useful to inform public health’ because some of their food classifications seem to be not entirely accurate.

Other scientists saw the importance of the two studies, such as Mark Lawrence and Phillip Baker, both from Deakin University in Australia. Lawrence, a health professor, and Baker, a health researcher wrote in an editorial issue in The BMJ that the quantity of industrially processed food in global food supplies has rapidly grown over the last few decades. They also said that as this happened, it directly corresponded with an increased rate of obesity and non-communicable diseases in numerous countries.

One potential policy measure against processed foods

Both Lawrence and Baker said that the Spanish and French researchers’ studies were conducted well, adapting for widely known risk factors and performing secondary assays. Old-school nutrition profiles indexed on the back of a food package are not adequate when it comes to the new way of artificial foods, the two health experts said. Possible policy actions to help people identify the dangers of these items should have labeling on the front of the package, food taxation, and restrains on food marketing.

On the other hand, policy creators should take into consideration the change of their priorities to a bigger insistence on advertising the availability, reasonable cost, and attainability of unprocessed foods, they said.


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