WORLD – New research published by The British Medical Journal suggests that ultra-processed foods such as sugary cereals and ready meals are linked to cardiovascular disease and early death.

The research carried out in two separate studies in France and Spain shows that eating over-processed foods such as cream, pizza, chicken nuggets, breakfast cereals and bacon could lead to serious health risks including heart disease.

Researchers from the University of Paris collected data on the diets and health of more than 105,000 people aged 18 and up over the course of five years.

Those who ate the most “ultra-processed” foods (typically made with ingredients like sugar, saturated fats, preservatives and sweeteners) had a greater risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular issues.

Processed food, maybe an early death sentence

Though the researchers say the findings are not a definite proof of harm, they submit that processed food could mean an early death sentence for those fond of it.

Ultra-processed foods include packaged baked goods and snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, ready meals containing food additives, dehydrated vegetable soups, and reconstituted meat and fish products.

While some studies show that over-processed foods may lead to overeating, they are also said to often contain high levels of added sugar, fat, and/or salt, but lacking in vitamins and fibre.  

The researchers say there is an upsurge in consumption of such foods around the world, accounting for around 25-60% of daily energy intake in many countries.

Ultra-processed foods are classified by how much industrial processing has been applied, mainly to make them last longer or taste better – generally using salt, oil, sugar or fermentation.

In contrast, the researchers found a significant association between unprocessed or minimally processed foods and lower risks of all reported diseases.

Unprocessed or minimally processed foods category include fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, legumes such as lentils, seeds, grains such as rice and eggs.

The first study from University of Paris:

  • Nearly 18% of men’s overall diets were made up of heavily processed foods, the study found. Women’s diets, meanwhile, were comprised of 17.3% processed foods.
  • When the consumption of overly processed foods rose 10 percentage points (for example, from 10% to 20%) the risk of these deadly diseases jumped 12%.
  • Researchers concluded that 277 cases of cardiovascular disease would occur annually in 100,000 people who heavily relied on eating ultra-processed foods versus those who did not.

The second study from the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain:

  • People who consumed heavily processed foods (more than four servings of each per day) had a 62% increased risk for early death compared to those who indulged in these foods less often.
  • Consuming each additional serving increased the risk of death by 18%. Ultra-processed foods were likely to blame.