A new warning has been issued regarding the harmful effects of ultra-processed foods on health. A study conducted by a team of nutritionists and cancer researchers from the US National Cancer Institute confirms the increased risk of death associated with regular consumption of these foods. These findings, presented at the 2024 Nutrition Congress of the American Society for Nutrition, highlight the strong association of processed meats and sugary drinks with premature mortality.

Elderly individuals who reported consuming larger quantities of ultra-processed foods, as defined by the American NOVA classification system, are at a 10% increased risk of premature mortality over the 23 years of the study’s follow-up period.

The study followed over half a million participants for an average of nearly 30 years. The team utilized multiple strategies to classify the level of food processing, including breaking down foods into specific types, nutrients, and ingredients, as well as expert classification of these food components according to the recognized NOVA classification system. Confounding factors such as smoking and obesity were taken into account. The analysis revealed that:

– Participants who consumed more ultra-processed foods had a higher body mass index (BMI) and obviously a lower healthy eating index;
– Higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with an increase in deaths from all causes and specifically from heart disease or diabetes;
– However, no association was found for cancer-related deaths;
– Highly processed meat products and sugary drinks are the subgroups of ultra-processed foods most strongly associated with the risk of mortality;
– These same foods are already discouraged in the vast majority of nutritional guidelines.

Lead author Erikka Loftfield, a researcher at the National Cancer Institute, noted, “The research is consistent with a wealth of observational and experimental studies indicating that the consumption of ultra-processed foods has a negative impact on health and longevity. However, we need to better identify the aspects of ultra-processed foods that lead to these health risks.”

The authors call for further research on the relationships between food processing and human health, as well as for increased patient and public education on the topic. In conclusion, it is essential for individuals to be aware of the potential risks associated with consuming ultra-processed foods and to make informed choices for their health and well-being.