Story at a glance
- Ultra-processed foods account for more than half of Americans’ daily caloric intake.
- New data shows consumption of these foods is linked with significant increases in premature deaths.
- Researchers estimate eating less of these foods could lead to lower rates of noncommunicable diseases and fewer premature deaths.
Eating ultra-processed foods — or those that contain little or no whole foods in their ingredients — was associated with tens of thousands of premature deaths in 2019, according to results of a new study.
The investigation was carried out in Brazil, but researchers noted Brazilians tend to eat far less of these foods than individuals in high-income countries like the United States, Canada and Australia.
As ultra-processed foods account for more than half of Americans’ total caloric intake, the association with premature deaths could be even greater in the United States.
The foods were defined as ready-to-eat-or-heat industrial formulations made with ingredients extracted from foods or synthesized in laboratories. They can include pre-packaged soups and sauces, frozen pizza, hot dogs, sausages, sodas, ice cream and store-bought baked goods.
Data showed increased consumption of these foods was linked with more than 10 percent of all premature, preventable deaths in the country, accounting for around 57,000 deaths in 2019.
During the study period, 261,061 adults between the ages 30 and 69 died from preventable, noncommunicable diseases. While consumption of ultra-processed foods was linked with 10 percent of all preventable premature deaths, the diets were linked with 21.8 percent of all deaths from preventable, non-communicable diseases in the country.
Processed foods have grown in prevalence in recent years and are replacing traditional foods made from fresh, minimally processed ingredients around the world, the authors explained.
Writing in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, they noted previous studies have detailed the negative health effects of sodium, sugar, trans fats and other additives in processed food. Consumption has also been linked with obesity, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other conditions.
One study published in Sept. 2022 found a significant association between ultra-processed food and colorectal cancer risk among men. Men who consumed higher rates of these foods were at a 30 percent increased risk of developing cancer.
Another found that sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with around 184,000 global adult deaths each year.
“To our knowledge, no study to date has estimated the potential impact of [ultra-processed foods] on premature deaths,” said lead investigator Eduardo A.F. Nilson, of the University of São Paulo.
Models were based on data from nationally representative dietary surveys and were stratified by age and sex.
Promoting healthier food choices could help combat the growing trend, while cutting consumption of the foods by 10 to 50 percent could potentially prevent around 5,900 to 29,300 premature deaths in Brazil each year, models showed.
“Even reducing consumption of [ultra-processed foods] to the levels of just a decade ago would reduce associated premature deaths by 21 percent. Policies that disincentivize the consumption of [the foods] are urgently needed,” Nilson said.
However, not all highly processed foods are necessarily unhealthy, as processed whole grain breads and cereals can also be important sources of fiber.
Source : Yahoo