Higher Consumption of Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Increased Risk of Premature Death

Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Increased Risk of Premature Death

A 30-year study conducted in the US found that consuming ultra-processed foods may lead to a slightly higher risk of premature death. The research, published in The BMJ, suggests that while not all ultra-processed food products need to be restricted, limiting certain types could benefit long-term health.

Ultra-processed foods include packaged baked goods, snacks, soft drinks, sugary cereals, and ready-to-eat or heat products. These items often contain additives and are high in energy, added sugar, saturated fat, and salt, but low in vitamins and fiber.

To investigate the link between ultra-processed foods and cause-specific deaths, researchers tracked the long-term health of 74,563 female registered nurses and 39,501 male health professionals. Participants provided information on their health and lifestyle habits every two years and completed a detailed food questionnaire every four years.

During an average 34-year follow-up period, researchers identified 48,193 deaths, including 13,557 due to cancer, 11,416 due to cardiovascular diseases, 3926 due to respiratory diseases, and 6343 due to neurodegenerative diseases. Participants with the highest ultra-processed food intake (7 servings per day) had a 4% higher risk of total deaths and a 9% higher risk of other deaths, including an 8% higher risk of neurodegenerative deaths, compared to those with the lowest intake (3 servings per day).

The association between ultra-processed food consumption and death varied across specific food groups, with meat, poultry, and seafood-based ready-to-eat products showing the strongest and most consistent associations. The link was less pronounced after considering overall dietary quality, suggesting that dietary quality has a more significant influence on long-term health than ultra-processed food consumption.

The researchers emphasized that not all ultra-processed food products should be universally restricted but supported limiting certain types for long-term health. They also called for future studies to improve the classification of ultra-processed foods and confirm their findings in other populations.

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