No stunning news flash here: ultra-processed foods with artificial preservatives and added sugars and sodium are terrible for health. But a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reveals just how bad they might be….
Over 24,000 men and women, 35 and older, were tracked for up to a decade. Data on their eating habits and health outcomes were analyzed. The researchers, unsurprisingly, concluded that the subjects who ate lots of heavily-processed foods were more likely to die from heart disease, heart attack or stroke.
The subjects in the study that ate the most processed food consumed up to 50% of their total caloric from ultra-processed sources. People who consumed at least 15% of their daily total caloric intake from processed foods were also in the same risk group as the people who got up to 50% of their calories from ultraprocessed food.
The 15%-50% group were 58% more likely to die of cardiovascular disease during the study than their peers who consumed the least ultraprocessed food—no more than one serving a day. In addition, the ultraprocessed food group, the researchers established, were 52% more likely to die of stroke or another type of cerebrovascular disease.
According to Insider.com, which reported on the Italian study, the most common ultraprocessed foods the subjects consumed were pizza, snack cakes, pies, and processed meats. Processed meats are preserved with nitrites and nitrates to prevent meat from spoiling and losing their color. Examples of processed meats include anything that’s cured or smoked, including bacon, sausage, pepperoni, hot dogs and salami.
But other examples of ultraprocessed foods are those thought to be healthy such as yogurt. Plain yogurt is minimally-processed. However, any flavored yogurt has lots of added sugar.
Other ingredients that are prevalent in ultraprocessed foods include high-fructose corn syrup, seed oils, vegetable oils, protein isolates, food coloring (artificial dyes), thickening agents (emulsifiers), and artificial preservatives.
The overwhelming majority of ready-to-eat, packaged meals fit the definition of ultraprocessed food. Another health concern of eating ultraprocessed food is that the ingredients therein are more likely to encourage the consumption of additional sugar.
Take high fructose corn syrup. A lab-produced sweetener, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) blocks the signaling ability of the satiety hormone, ghrelin, to reach the brain. In other words, your brain doesn’t receive the message that it’s full. Furthermore, HFCS may stimulate the hunger hormone, leptin. So even if you eat a large meal with ultraprocessed food, you may still feel hungry.
To read the study abstract, click here.