“Ultra-processed” foods linked to heart disease, early death

Agency, 2 June : People who get many of their meals from packages may have heightened risks of heart disease, stroke and premature death, two large studies suggest.

The findings, published online May 29 in the journal BMJ, are the latest to point the finger at “ultra-processed” foods.

They include not only “junk food” like chips, sweets and fast food but also the breads, processed meats, jarred sauces and frozen meals that many people consider staples.

In one study, researchers followed more than 100,000 French adults for about five years.

They found that the more ultra-processed foods people ate, the higher their odds of a first-time heart condition or stroke: Those who ate the most processed foods were 23% more likely to suffer cardiovascular trouble compared to those with the lowest intakes.

And it wasn’t only because those foods were loaded with sugar, salt or fat — or because those people were heavier, exercised less or had other unhealthy habits.

Instead, there might be other things about highly processed foods that take a health toll, according to researchers Bernard Srour and Mathilde Touvier, from the University of Paris.

Other studies, they noted, have hinted that additives or contaminants formed during food processing have negative effects on metabolism and the cardiovascular system.

The researchers stressed that their study can’t prove cause and effect.

But taken along with other research linking processed foods to ill health effects, they said the message is straightforward: Strive to eat more “whole” and minimally processed foods.

Dr. Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist not involved in the study, had the same advice.

“I like to say: The longer the shelf life, the shorter your life,” said Freeman, who directs cardiovascular prevention and wellness at National Jewish Health in Denver.

Based on the overall body of research, he said, the most heart-healthy diet is one rich in whole foods — particularly plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts.

To make that more affordable and convenient, Freeman pointed to healthy, packaged options — like fresh-frozen vegetables.

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