Want to live longer?
Minimize eating ultra-processed foods
A recent study showed that ultra-processed foods (UPFs) account for 58 percent of calories and 90 percent of added sugar consumed by Americans. Research links high consumption of ultra-processed foods elevated risk of chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and hypertension. A recent report from Johns Hopkins University extended this link to premature death. Researchers used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988-1994). This representative sample of US adults over age 20 included 11,898 participants with an average age of 41 years. Foods were categorized as unprocessed or minimally processed; processed, culinary ingredients; processed; or ultra-processed using the NOVA classification.
Participants in the highest quartile of UPF consumption ate significantly more calories, less protein and had lower healthy diet scores. Compared to participants in the lowest quartile of UPF intake (0-2.5 times per day), participants in the highest quartile (5.2-29.7 times per day) had a 31 percent greater risk of all-cause mortality during 19 years of follow-up. This result did not change substantially following statistical adjustment for demographic and socio-economic confounding factors, as well as processed meat consumption and diet quality. Interestingly, less than 1 percent of the participants reported eating no ultra-processed foods.
A study of Spanish university graduates also showed that young adults who ate lots of UPFs had increased mortality risk. Participants included 19,899 men and women with an average age of 37.6 years who were followed over an average of 10.4 years. Compared to participants in the lowest quartile of UPF intake (less than two servings per day), participants in the highest quartile (more than four servings per day) had a 62 percent higher risk of dying during follow-up. This result accounted for influence of confounding factors. Each serving of UPFs predicted 18 percent increase in mortality risk. Processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, daily products (limited to custard, ice cream, milkshakes, and petit suisse), french-fries, pastries, and cookies accounted for three-quarters of ultra-processed foods.
A different group of Spanish researchers recently showed that higher consumption of UPFs predicted higher risk of mortality. The study included a nationally representative sample of 11,808 Spanish adults with a mean age of 46.9 years. UPFs accounted for 24.3 percent of overall participants’ calories and 33 percent of participants’ calories in the highest quartile of UPF intake. Compared to participants in the lowest quartile of UPFs, participants in the highest quartile had a 44 percent higher risk of dying during 7.7 years of follow-up. This result was independent of numerous potentially confounding factors, such as age, education, and physical activity. Theoretical isocaloric replacement of all UPFs with unprocessed or minimally processed foods predicted a 20 percent lower risk of mortality. Younger Spanish adults appear to be embracing UPFs to their detriment.
Not surprisingly, the studies showed that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods correlated with lower diet quality. Current science suggests that if you limit intake of UPFs, you’ll live longer.