Ultra-processed foods and early death: How are they linked? Tips to limit intake of highly processed foods

Two major studies have shown that eating ultra-processed foods can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke and early death. Here’s how to cut back on this food category and improve your health.

Ultra-processed foods and early death: How are they linked? Tips to limit intake of highly processed foods

Ultra-processed foods and early death: How are they linked? Tips to limit intake of highly processed foods  |  Photo Credit: Thinkstock

New Delhi: Recently, researchers have shown a cause-and-effect relationship between consuming ultra-processed foods and weight gain. Previous research studies have linked ultra-processed foods like ice cream and breakfast cereals to an increased risk for cancer and early death, among many other health risks. Now, two major studies have shown that eating these foods can increase your risk of heart attack, stroke and early death.

The studies done by the separate teams in France and Spain add to a growing body of evidence that eating heavily processed foods that go through multiple processes and contain many added ingredients can lead to an array of disorders, including obesity, cancer and high blood pressure. The studies, published in the British Medical Journal, linked these foods with poor health and death.

Why ultra-processed foods may be bad for you

In the French study, researchers at the University of Paris followed 105,159 people for five years, which included assessing their diet twice a year. The researchers found that those who ate the most ‘ultra-processed foods’ had significantly higher rates of cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed these foods the least.

The findings showed that rates of cardiovascular disease were 277 per 100,000 people per year among those whose diets contained the highest amounts of ultra-processed foods, compared with 242 per 100,000 in low consumers.

“The rapid and worldwide increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods, to the detriment of less processed foods, may drive a substantial burden of cardiovascular diseases in the next decades,” Dr Mathilde Touvier, from the University of Paris, was quoted as saying by the BBC News.

Similarly, the Spanish study done by the University of Navarra found that people consuming more than four servings of ultra-processed food a day were 62 per cent more likely to die of any cause than those having less than two portions per day. And the risk of death increased by 18 per cent for each additional serving. To come to this conclusion, the researchers tracked 19,899 people whose diets were also assessed every other year for up to 10 years.

While experts expressed caution with mounting evidence suggesting a link between ultra-processed foods and poor health, they also called for further investigation.

How to cut back on ultra-processed foods

Ultra-processed foods are addictive, making you more likely to overeat and resulting in weight gain. These foods are manufactured industrially from multiple ingredients, including added preservatives, sweeteners or colour enhancers. Examples of ultra-processed foods are: breakfast cereals or cereal bars, instant soups, ice creams, sausages and hamburgers, soft drinks, chips, chocolate, candy, chicken nuggets, mass-produced bread, meal replacement shakes, etc.

The following tips may help you reduce your intake of ultra-processed foods:

  1. The most important thing you can do for your health is choosing whole foods over processed foods and ready-made meals. Try adding fresh fruits and veggies to your breakfast and snack. Ensure half of your plate at lunch and dinner is filled with veggies and fruits. Also, replace processed grains with whole grains.
  2. Make water your beverage of choice instead of sugar-sweetened beverages. Water is not only calorie-free and fat-free but also provides many health benefits. It helps you stay hydrated, regulate normal body temperature, and cleanses your system of waste and toxins. If you’re bored with plain water, try adding fresh fruits to your water for enhanced taste and flavour.
  3. Check ingredient lists and nutrition facts while buying foods – develop the habit of reading labels diligently and opt for products with fewer ingredients.
  4. Opt for more veggies and light version foods when dining out – keeping sodium in check. Control portion sizes – try to divide up dessert and skip sweet drinks as much as possible.
  5. One of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce your ultra-processed food consumption is to cook at home, perhaps, more often without using ingredients used in ultra-processed foods. Avoid adding too much salt to foods. Use herbs and spices like garlic or pepper if you need an extra flavour boost.

The fact is that a little planning can help you make healthier food choices, which may help reduce your risk for diseases and stay fit and slim. Perhaps, doing a check-in with your mind and gut before buying foods can do a lot of good for your body.

Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purpose only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a dietician before starting any fitness programme or making any changes to your diet.

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