Ultraprocessed Foods May Lead to Early Death

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Ultraprocessed foods likely contribute to earlier mortality, according to a new study from France. Researchers found that with every 10 percent increase in an individual's intake of ultraprocessed food, his or her risk of early death also increased by 14 percent.

The NOVA food classification system, used by the researchers, defines ultraprocessed foods as foods that are “formulated from industrial ingredients and contain little or no intact foods.” These foods are characterized by their convenience, palatability, and attractive pricing, according to one World Nutrition report on the classification system.

In the U.S., 61 percent of the average adult’s diet comes from ultraprocessed foods, according to the researchers.

The researchers posit several possible factors contributing to the link between ultraprocessed food consumption and early death. These include the presence of additives like inflammatory titanium dioxide, packaging containing BPA, and high-temperature processing techniques that may produce acrylamide, a compound the World Health Organization has deemed a probable carcinogen.

Ultraprocessed foods also have an average of eight times more added sugar than processed foods. Sugar has already been linked to increased risk of early mortality in previous research. Ultraprocessed foods also tend to contain more sodium, which is linked to hypertension, and less fiber. One recent study found that those who consume a high-fiber diet may live longer than those who do not.

The study, published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, examined the diets of 44,551 French adults who were part of an ongoing cohort study. The participants were an average of 57 years old at the start of the study and were tracked for over 7 years. Over the course of the study, 219 of the participants died from cancer and 34 from cardiovascular diseases.

The researchers were quick to note that the relationship between ultraprocessed foods and early death may not be causal.

“People may be scared and think they’re going to die if they eat these foods, but we need not be alarmist,” study co-author Mathilde Touvier told the New York Times.

The researchers also noted that further studies are needed to confirm these results.

This new research is nevertheless in line with previous research on the subject, which has found, for example, that a higher intake of ultraprocessed foods is associated with higher risk of noncommunicable diseases. Last year, the same research team linked the consumption of ultraprocessed foods to a greater risk of both breast cancer and overall cancer.

“Since cost is often a factor, this growing body of research suggests that more need be done to make healthier foods available to a greater number of people,” reports Forbes. “And as always, the message is to eat real foods, as much as is feasible and affordable.”

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