Eating ultra-processed food every day could increase risk of early death by 60%

Sarah Young
Thursday 30 May 2019 08:06
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Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall call for childhood obesity action

Eating “ultra-processed foods", like sausages, ice cream and pizza, could increase the risk of early death by 60 per cent, research suggests.

Two studies, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), have found a link between foods which contain high levels of added fat and sugar and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.

The research showed that those eating four portions of ultra-processed food every day had a 62 per cent increased mortality risk, compared with those consuming less than two servings.

Furthermore, each additional serving increased the risk of early death by almost a fifth (18 per cent).

The findings, from separate teams in France and Spain, contribute to a growing body of evidence that processed foods may play a role in an array of medical disorders such as cancer and obesity.

In the first study, researchers at the University of Paris gathered details on the diets and health of more than 105,000 people.

Over five years of follow-up, the researchers found that those who consumed the most ultra-processed food were most at risk of stroke, heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

What’s more, every 10 per cent increase in consumption of ultra-processed food was linked to a 13 per cent rise in rates of heart disease, and an 11 per cent risk in diseases which cause strokes.

For the second study, a team at the University of Navarra in Spain monitored the eating habits and health of nearly 20,000 graduates from 1999 to 2014.

The researchers' findings showed that those eating four portions a day of highly processed foods had a 62 per cent increased mortality risk, compared with those eating less than two.

The scientists warned that people need to be more aware of what they are consuming, and should consider cutting out processed meats and convenience meals, in favour of more natural foods.

They also warned that modern lifestyles mean up to 60 per cent of daily energy intake is now coming from factory-produced foods.

Dr Mathilde Touvier, from the University of Paris, told BBC News: “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.”

“[The] evidence is accumulating. Increasing numbers of independent studies observe associations between ultra-processed foods and adverse health effects.”

The findings follow a recent study which revealed that ultra-processed foods make people eat more, eat faster and gain more weight.

Researchers from the US National Institute of Health, found that participants put on 500 calories more per day and gained 2lbs (1kg) in weight in a two week period.

Meanwhile, a group eating unprocessed food like spinach salad with chicken breast, apple slices, bulgur, and sunflower seeds, lost weight.

According to the NHS, examples of common processed foods include:

  • breakfast cereals 
  • cheese 
  • tinned vegetables 
  • bread 
  • savoury snacks, such as crisps, sausage rolls, pies and pasties  
  • meat products, such as bacon, sausage, ham, salami and paté  
  • “convenience foods”, such as microwave meals or ready meals 
  • cakes and biscuits  
  • drinks, such as milk or soft drinks 

However, it states that not all processed food is a bad choice as some need processing to make them safe, such as milk, which needs to be pasteurised to remove harmful bacteria.

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