There is increasing evidence that eating too many processed foods, such as chips, soda, and ice cream, can lead to obesity and high cholesterol.
According to a Monday study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 57,000 Brazilians aged between 30 and 69 died in 2019 due to their consumption of processed foods. This represents more than 10% of the annual premature deaths in Brazil for this age group.
According to the authors, their study is the first that estimates the effect of ultra-processed foods on early death.
This study was based on calculations from an earlier analysis that compared the relative mortality risks of people who eat large quantities of processed foods to those who eat relatively little. This model was applied to Brazil’s population and its level of ultra-processed food consumption. They then calculated the number of deaths that could have been avoided if people aged between 30 and 69 ate less of this type of food. Because the World Health Organization considers premature death due to non-communicable diseases at these ages, the researchers concentrated on this age group.
Eduardo Nilson is a nutrition researcher at the University of Sao Paulo. He is the lead author of the study. He said that diabetes, cancer, obesity, and chronic kidney disease could all play a part.
Foods that have been “ultra-processed,” contain more artificial ingredients than foods that only have salt, sugar, or oil. These foods usually contain very few ingredients and may include flavorings, colors, or other additives. This category includes frozen pizza, instant noodles, and store-bought cookies.
Nilson stated that Brazil’s most processed foods contribute the highest daily calories to daily intake. These include bread, cakes, and pastries; margarine; salted crackers and cookies; hamburgers, hot dogs, and hamburgers; as well as sugar-sweetened beverages.
Nilson and his colleagues estimated that Brazil would see around 20,000 fewer premature deaths if it ensured that the amount of ultra-processed foods in their diet was below 23%. Nilson stated that while most Brazilians live below this threshold, 25% of Brazil’s adult population consumes up to 50% of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods.
Ultra-processed foods account for 57% of the daily calories in the United States. Nilson believes that the U.S. could see more premature deaths from this type of food.
Numerous studies have previously linked ultra-processed foods to adverse health outcomes such as diabetes, cognitive decline, and cancer. A study in August found that Italians who ate large amounts of ultra-processed foods had a higher death rate.
Maura Walker from Boston University, who was not involved in the research, warned that this study didn’t prove that excessive food processing directly causes premature death. It only showed that there was an association. She said that the connection is clear.
Walker stated that ultra-processed foods may be one of the factors that lead to hypertension, poor blood cholesterol, and higher waist circumferences. This is actually how they are linked to mortality.
She said that it would be ideal for people to swap ultra-processed food for fresher fruits and vegetables. However, this is not always possible in food deserts, where people rely only on one dollar store or supermarket for their groceries.
Many ultra-processed foods are identified by their lengthy list of ingredients. These are often not things you would find in your kitchen.
According to Dr. Walter Willett (a Harvard T.H. professor of nutrition and epidemiology), not all items in this category are harmful. Chan School of Public Health. Whole grain bread and whole grain breakfast cereals can be considered ultra-processed but are rich in dietary fiber which can help lower your risk of developing heart disease or cancer.
Willett said that replacing processed foods with some foods may not be beneficial, such as red meat and foods cooked in lots of butter. Red meat consumption can increase the risk of certain cancers, such as heart disease, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Willett stated that it is important to avoid certain foods that have a high risk of premature death. For example, soda is responsible for around 184,000 deaths each year in the United States.
Willett stated that “In general there’s no doubt that Brazilians, Americans, and a lot of other people are eating a lot too much junk food.” They add up to a large chunk of preventable death when taken together.