Study: People Consuming More Ultra-processed Foods May Face Increased Risk Of Early Death

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Consuming ultra-processed foods is associated with an early risk of death, according to a 30-plus year study.

Ultra-processed foods are significantly altered from their original state and usually contain manufactured ingredients such as preservatives, artificial coloring, emulsifiers, added sugar, salt, and fats to make food more appealing. Ultra-processed foods include sodas, potato chips, cakes, nuggets, and ice cream.

In the study, published Wednesday in The BMJ journal, experts analyzed data from more than 100,000 health professionals in the United States with no history of cancer, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes. The participants provided updates on their health and lifestyle habits every two years.

The group that ate the least ultra-processed food ate about three servings daily on average, while the highest consumed approximately seven servings daily. Data showed that those who ate the most had a 4% higher risk of death by any cause, including a 9% increased risk of neurodegenerative deaths.

Processed meats, sugary foods, and drinks do not appear to have the same risks as ultra-processed whole grain, according to lead study author Dr. Mingyang Song, associate professor of clinical epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s TH Chan School of Public Health.

“Cereals, whole grain bread, for example, are also considered ultra-processed food, but they contain various beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins, and minerals,” he said in an interview with CNN.

Dr. Peter Wilde, emeritus fellow at Quadram Institute Bioscience in the United Kingdom,  said that while this recent study is substantial because of its 30-year span, it doesn’t provide definitive proof that ultra-processed foods lead to death. However, he recommends that people limit their consumption of these foods.

“If you are worried about food additives, then choose foods that have low levels of additives,” he told CNN. “Just be mindful of the nutritional content of (the ultra-processed foods) that you do choose to consume,” he said.

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