‘Ultraprocessed’ Foods Could Shave Years Off Your Life

Come on now, you already knew deep in your McNugget-loving, soda-swilling heart that highly processed foods are bad for you. Perhaps you didn’t realize, though, how truly damaging they are. Well, sit back and have a listen, because you’ll want to hear this.

PUT. THE. POPTART. DOWN.

That’s right. Just say no to all those processed, pre-packaged foods — or at least, eat them sparingly.

A new study published in ”JAMA Internal Medicine” says a 10 percent increase in your consumption of “ultraprocessed” foods translates to a 14 percent greater risk dying from all causes.

The study took place in France, where researchers tracked about 45,000 people  aged 45 years or older over the course of seven years. Participants filled out questionnaires about what they ate and drank, as well as their height, weight, lifestyle, physical activity level, body measurements and so on.

Researchers determined that ultraprocessed food consumption was associated with younger age, lower income, lower educational level, solitary living, higher body mass index and lower physical activity level.

doughnuts

Photo Credit: Getty Images

WHAT IS ULTRAPROCESSED FOOD?

To understand why “ultraprocessed food” is so bad for you, first you must understand what it is and differentiate it from “processed food.”

Most foods we eat have been “processed” in some manner. Our salads are bagged, nuts and tuna come in cans, coffee is ground, tofu is packaged, and veggies can be bought pre-sliced. This sort of light processing isn’t a problem.

According to the NOVA food classification system, which assigns a group to food products based on how much processing they have been through, these are natural foods altered by processes such as removal of inedible or unwanted parts, drying, crushing, pasteurization, refrigeration, freezing and so on. None of this is bad.

Experts say unprocessed or minimally processed foods like vegetables, grains, legumes, fruits, nuts, meats, seafood, eggs and milk should be the cornerstones of your diet. Indeed, many these days would strongly recommend going one step further, to a “whole food plant-based” diet that drops the meats, seafood, eggs and dairy.

Where we get into trouble is when we rely heavily on convenient ultraprocessed foods. They’re the edible products that resemble food, but aren’t generally nutritionally valuable. These foods are significantly changed from their original state and are produced for convenience and long shelf life.

Such “foods” are formulated from industrial ingredients and contain little or no intact foods. They usually have five or more ingredients. You can expect to see things on the label like salt, sugar, oils, fats, flavor enhancers, additives, preservatives, dyes and ingredients with names you can’t even pronounce.

A few of the familiar foods and drinks that qualify as ultraprocessed include:

  • Sodas, sweetened drinks
  • Pre-packaged pizza, pasta and pies
  • Microwavable meals
  • Cookies, cakes, donuts, pastries
  • Chips
  • Sweetened cereal
  • Ice cream
  • Fish sticks and chicken nuggets
  • Burgers, hot dogs and sausages
  • “Instant” meals and desserts
  • Packaged snacks

Yes, vegans, this list would include many beloved meat alternatives you’ve been buying in grocery stores. They’re tasty and they caused no harm to animals, but if you eat them too often they could cause harm to you.

According to the NOVA system:

Common attributes of ultra-processed products are hyper-palatability, sophisticated and attractive packaging, multi-media and other aggressive marketing to children and adolescents, health claims, high profitability, and branding and ownership by transnational corporations.

WHAT THE FRENCH STUDY TAUGHT US

A total of 602 participants died during the course of the seven-year French study. Observationally, it appeared to researchers that those subjects who ate proportionately more ultraprocessed foods had a higher risk of “all-cause mortality.”

“Ultraprocessed foods consumption has largely increased during the past several decades and may drive a growing burden of noncommunicable disease deaths,” noted the study’s authors.

The warning bell is ringing. In many ways, we’re eating and drinking ourselves to death. We’re fat, and we’re unhealthy.

The problem, of course, is that these days, eating poorly is convenient, easy and cheap. Eating well takes effort, time and often more money. It’s no wonder those who die earlier eat so much of this food. They often feel unable to do much about it. Statistically they are poorer, less educated, live alone and don’t exercise.

We need to turn the tide back toward eating real food. Changing the unhealthy eating habit takes planning and willpower, but it can be done.

Photo credit: Getty Images

61 comments

Mely Lu
Mely Lu3 days ago

thank you

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Thomas M
Thomas M3 days ago

thank you for posting

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Emma L
Emma L9 days ago

thank you

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Shae Lee
Shae Lee13 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

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danii p
danii p21 days ago

Thank you

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danii p
danii p21 days ago

Thank you

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Shae Lee
Shae Lee22 days ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Janis K
Janis K23 days ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Leo Custer
Leo C25 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Celine Russo
Celine Russo26 days ago

Wonder how the system came to this point...

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