Eating A Lot of Processed Food May Increase Risk Of Death, New Study Warns

Regular consumption of prepackaged and highly processed foods can increase the risk of an early death from any cause by more than 60%, according to the findings of a new study.

In findings published last week in The BMJ, researchers compared consumption of minimally processed foods to eating a lot of “ultra-processed” foods, such as baked snacks, packaged meats, candies, sugary drinks, instant soups and other common items.

The study involved nearly 20,000 participants, who were followed up every two years from December 1999 to February 2014 with questionnaires that categorized food consumption into four groups: minimally processed, containing processed ingredients, processed, and ultraprocessed.

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Minimally processed consisted of mostly fresh fruits and vegetables and meals prepared from fresh foods. Containing processed ingredients were meals that were prepared from scratch, but may have contained processed ingredients like sugar and oil.

Processed consisted of meals that contained mostly fresh, but also some processed foods. By contrast, ultraprocessed involved four or more servings of processed food per day, including items ranging from sausage to mayonnaise.

Overall, researchers said there were 335 deaths in the group. Yet, participants who ate the most processed foods had a higher risk of early death from any cause compared to people in the group that ate the lowest amount of processed food.

Consuming ultra processed foods four or more times a day increased the risk of early death by 62%. This included early death from any cause.

Researchers also noted a significant dose response relationship. For each additional serving of processed foods person ate each day the death rate increased by 18%.

Prior studies have linked eating processed food to increased risk of other conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and some cancers.

In recent decades, the volume of processed foods in the global food supply has increased. Processed foods now make up more than half of the total food consumed in high-income countries like the U.S., Canada, and United Kingdom.

At the same time, the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases like obesity, heart disease, and cancer have also increased. Most researchers believe there is a direct correlation.

Researchers warned it may be necessary to change nutritional profiles on the back of packaged foods to help consumers recognize processed food and the risk it may pose to their health when consumed in greater quantities than the occasional meal. At the same time, increasing the availability and affordability of fresh and minimally processed foods is also important.


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