Ultra-processed foods: obesity, heart attack and premature death

Consumption of ultra-processed industrial foods is bad for health and reduces life expectancy. Many industrial foods are ultra-processed. That is to say, they are pure synthetic creations made from inexpensive ingredients (fat, sugar, salt) and industrial products unknown in nature (hydrolyzed proteins, hydrogenated oils, modified starches).

Ultra-processed products also contain an array of additives to improve their appearance, taste, texture and shelf life (emulsifiers, stabilizers, texturizers, colors, artificial flavors, synthetic sweeteners). These products are therefore not foods in the usual sense. But rather a combination of ingredients, arranged in such a way as to give the illusion of food.

Ultra-processed foods: the obesity-creating machine

Consumption of these ultra-processed foods has increased dramatically over the past few decades. This trend is correlated with a dramatic increase in the number of obese people in the population. This association is no coincidence. Because a clinical study has shown that the consumption of ultra-processed foods decreases satiety and causes a significant increase in caloric intake.

Certain ubiquitous additives in these foods (emulsifiers in particular) create inflammation in the gut that disrupts the composition of the microbiome, raises blood sugar and causes excess weight. Since these ultra-processed foods have become one of the main sources of calories for the population in recent years, there is no doubt that these foods contribute to the current obesity epidemic and the high incidence of diseases resulting from being overweight.

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Ultra-processed foods: 50% more risk of dying from heart attack

The results of a recent Italian study clearly highlight this negative impact of ultra-processed foods on health. In this study, carried out among 24,325 men and women aged 55 on average and living in the Molise region (southern Italy), the researchers analyzed the daily quantity of ultra-processed foods consumed by attendees. In parallel, the researchers listed the premature deaths that affected this population over a period of 8 years. The main ultra-processed foods consumed by the participants were processed meats (sausages, processed meats), prepared pizzas, pastries, processed snacks and sugary drinks.

The results clearly show that people who consumed the most of these ultra-processed foods (15% of their total food intake) were much more at risk of dying prematurely than those who consumed little of them (less than 5% of their total dietary intake). food).

For example, the researchers noted a significant increase (52%) in the risk of death linked to ischemic diseases (heart attack, stroke). As well as an increase in the risk of premature mortality in general, regardless of the cause (26% increase). These adverse effects on cardiovascular health are particularly pronounced in people who have risk factors for cardiovascular disease. In particular a history of heart attack or stroke or the presence of type 2 diabetes.

Same risk for vegetarians and vegans who consume processed foods

Originally designed to satisfy our natural inclination towards sugar, fat and salt, ultra-processed foods are nonetheless unhealthy products. They are devoid of essential nutrients. They promote overweight and the development of serious pathologies. This is also true for industrial products intended for vegetarians or vegans. Like all ultra-processed products, these meatless versions are often made from poor quality ingredients and sometimes contain astronomical amounts of sugar, fat, salt and several food additives. Moreover, studies report that vegetarians or vegans who regularly consume these products are much more at risk of developing cardiovascular disease and dying prematurely. Whether you are omnivorous, vegetarian or vegan, the only way to eat healthy is to eat fresh food regularly.

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Hall KD et al. Ultra-processed diets cause excess calorie intake and weight gain: an inpatient randomized controlled trial of ad libitum food intake. Cell Metab. 2019; 30: 67-77.e3.

Laster J and LA Frame. Beyond the calories—is the problem in the processing? Curr.Treat. Opt. Gastroenterol. 2019; 17: 577–586.

Bonaccio M et al. Ultra-processed food consumption is associated with increased risk of all-cause and cardiovascular mortality in the Moli-sani Study. Am. J. Clin. Nutr., published on December 18, 2020.

Satija A et al. Healthy and unhealthful plant-based diets and the risk of coronary heart disease in US adults. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 2017; 70: 411–422.


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