Eating ultra-processed foods dramatically raises the risk of early death

POZZILLI, Italy — It’s fairly common knowledge that eating industrially processed junk foods is no good for your waistline. A new report is now adding an even more dire warning, revealing that ultra-processed foods greatly increase the chances of an early death, especially from heart disease.

People who eat too much ultra-processed food – such as potato chips and sugary beverages – are over 50 percent more likely to suffer from heart problems and die prematurely, according to the study.

Researchers in Italy say supermarket shelves are being flooded with popular processed foods because they are easy to cook, tasty, and cheap to produce. Although they may cut down on cooking time, the results reveal regularly consuming processed foods also cut down on the human lifespan. The risk of dying from all causes increases by 26 percent.

“Efforts aimed to lead the population towards a healthier diet can no longer be addressed only by calories counting or by vague references to the Mediterranean diet,” Professor Licia Iacoviello from the University of Insubria says in a media release.

“Sure, we obtained good results by those means, but now the battlefront is moving. Young people in particular are increasingly exposed to pre-packaged foods, easy to prepare and consume, extremely attractive and generally cheap.”

Junk food goes straight to the heart

The researchers studied the eating habits and health of 22,000 people over an eight-year period. Along with people who regularly consume ultra-processed foods increasing their risk of death by a quarter, the threat of heart disease skyrockets even further. Eating these foods increases a person’s chances of death by cardiovascular disease by a staggering 58 percent.

“To evaluate the nutrition habits of the Moli-sani participants we used the international NOVA classification, which characterizes foods on the basis of how much they undergo extraction, purification or alteration,” explains first author Dr. Marialaura Bonaccio of Istituto Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed. “Those with the highest level of industrial processing fall into the category of ultra-processed foods. According to our observations, people consuming large amounts of these foods have an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases.”

While the finger has been pointed at foods particularly high in sugar, the study suggests the problem may come from the industrial process itself.

“According to our analyses the excess of sugar does play a role, but it accounts only for 40% of the increased death risk,” co-author Dr. Augusto Di Castelnuovo reveals. “Our idea is that an important part is played by industrial processing itself, able to induce deep modifications in the structure and composition of nutrients.”

Ultra-processed food may be cheaper, but still comes at a price

The Italian team says the public should think twice about how much pre-packaged food they purchase. They add that healthy choices involves more than just counting the calories on the back of the meal’s box.

“This study, and other international researches going in the same direction, tell us that, in a healthy nutrition habit, fresh or minimally processed foods must be paramount,” Prof. Iacoviello adds.

“Spending a few more minutes cooking a lunch instead of warming a container in the microwave, or maybe preparing a sandwich for our children instead of putting a pre-packaged snack in their backpack: these are actions that will reward us over the years.”

The findings appear in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

SWNS writer Tom Campbell contributed to this report.

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