Ultra-processed food linked to higher death risk in middle-aged people

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Scientists from France found that eating ultra-processed food is linked to death risk among middle-aged adults.

Ultra-processed foods, also referred to as ultra-processed food products, are food and drink products that have undergone specified types of food processing, usually by transnational and other very large ‘Big food’ corporations.

They usually contain several ingredients which, besides salt, sugar, oils, and fats, include food substances, flavors, colors sweeteners, emulsifiers, and other additives used to imitate sensorial qualities of unprocessed or minimally processed foods.

Common ultra-processed foods include candies and cake mixes, mass-produced packaged bread and buns, pop and fruit drinks, sweetened yogurt, margarine and spreads, breakfast cereals, cereal and energy bars, sweet or savory packaged snacks (e.g., cookies), energy drinks, instant soups, sauces, and noodles, poultry and fish nuggets, hot dogs, and others.

Previous research has found that ultra-processed foods are less filling and raise one’s blood sugars higher than minimally processed foods.

These are generally higher in calories and sugar, lower in protein and fiber, and are associated with obesity.

Moreover, a higher intake of ultra-processed foods is linked to a higher risk of noncommunicable diseases.

A noncommunicable disease is a group of conditions that are not mainly caused by an acute infection, result in long-term health consequences and often create a need for long-term treatment and care.

These conditions include cancers, heart disease, diabetes, and chronic lung illnesses.

However, to date, the association between eating ultra-processed foods and death risk has never been examined.

In the study, researchers solved the problem. They examined 44 551 French adults who were 45 years or older.

These participants were from the French NutriNet-Santé Study, an ongoing cohort study that launched on May 11, 2009. The team performed a follow-up through December 15, 2017.

Participants were included if they completed at least 1 set of 3 web-based 24-hour dietary records during their first 2 years of follow-up.

The ultra-processed foods group is characterized as ready-to-eat or -heat formulations made mostly from ingredients usually combined with additives.

The association between the proportion of ultra-processed foods and overall mortality was the main outcome.

The team found that ultra-processed food consumption was associated with younger age, lower income, lower educational level, higher body mass index, and lower physical activity level.

A total of 602 deaths (1.4%) occurred during follow-up. The team found an increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods consumed was linked to a higher risk of death.

The team suggests that an increase in ultra-processed food consumption appears to be linked to overall higher death risk among middle-aged people.

The research is published in JAMA Internal Medicine and was conducted by Laure Schnabel et al.

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