Ultra-processed foods increase risk of death, especially from cardiovascular causes


Industrially produced foods, such as snacks, chips, convenience foods, and carbonated drinks, are harmful to health, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The study was conducted on over 22,000 citizens participating in the Moli-Sani Project, a cohort study aiming at evaluating risk factors linked to chronic-degenerative diseases. By analyzing their eating habits and following their health conditions for over 8 years, researchers were able to observe that those consuming a high amount of ultra-processed foods had an increased risk of death from any cause of 26 percent, and of 58 percent specifically from cardiovascular diseases, according to the study.

To evaluate the nutrition habits of the Moli-Sani participants, the researchers used the international NOVA classification, which characterizes foods based on how much they undergo extraction, purification, or alteration. Those with the highest level of industrial processing fall into the category of ultra-processed foods. According to the observations, people consuming large amounts of these foods have an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, the researchers said.

The main culprit could be sugar, which in ultra-processed foods is added in substantial amounts. However, the researchers said the answer seems to be more complex. According to the analysis, excess sugar does play a role, but it accounts only for 40 percent of the increased death risk.

The researchers said efforts aimed to lead the population towards a healthier diet can no longer be addressed only by calories counting. This and other studies, the researchers said, point to the idea that fresh or minimally processed foods must be paramount.