Scientists from New York University found that eating more ultra-processed foods is linked to higher risks of heart disease and death.
Ultra-processed foods are made mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats.
They may also contain additives like artificial colors and flavors or stabilizers.
Examples include ice cream, ham, sausages, crisps, mass-produced bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits, carbonated drinks, fruit-flavored yogurts, instant soups, and some alcoholic drinks including whisky, gin, and rum.
Previous research has found that ultra-processed foods are linked to obesity. One study found an ultra-processed diet increased the intake of carbohydrates and fat, but not protein.
People gained on average two pounds during the ultra-processed diet phase and lost two pounds during the unprocessed diet phase.
Ultra-processed foods provide 58% of total energy in the U.S. diet, but their association with heart disease remains unclear.
In the current study, researchers examined the links between eating ultra-processed foods and heart disease risk and death risk.
They analyzed data from 3,003 adults free from heart disease with valid dietary data. Ultra-processed foods were defined according to the NOVA framework.
During follow-up (1991 to 2014/2017), the team people consumed 7.5 servings per day of ultra-processed foods.
Each additional daily serving of ultra-processed foods was linked to a 7% higher risk of heart attacks and stroke and 9% higher of death risk.
The researchers concluded that eating more ultra-processed foods is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and death.
Although more research in diverse populations is needed to confirm the findings, the current results suggest heart benefits of reducing ultra-processed foods in daily diet.
Researchers suggest that whenever possible, try to avoid or limit ultra-processed foods. For example, corn is minimally processed, canned corn is processed food, and corn chips are ultra-processed.
Another example is apple is minimally processed, apple juice is processed food, and apple pie is ultra-processed.
Learning to quickly determine if a food is minimally processed, processed, or ultra-processed can benefit heart health.
The research is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and was conducted by Filippa Juul et al.
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