- Ultra-processed foods (UPF) contain industrially formulated ingredients and little or no whole foods.
- A recent study found that these foods increased the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- These foods are especially dangerous for people who already suffer from cardiovascular disease, a new study says.
A food must contain minimum amounts of whole food ingredients and five or more – often many more – inexpensive, industrially produced ingredients to be considered UPF.
Scientists have long warned against overuse of UPF, linking them to an array of health problems.
A new study finds that consuming UPF increases the risk of a second heart attack or stroke (more likely to be fatal) for people who already have CVD.
“We have seen,” says the study’s first author Dr Marialaura Bonaccio, “That people with a higher consumption of ultra-processed foods have a two-thirds increased risk of a second heart attack or stroke, this time fatal, compared to participants who ate these foods less. frequently. The likelihood of dying from any cause is also 40% higher.
It is worrying that the consumption of UPF is increasing, especially in the United States, where nearly 60% The diet of an average person is likely to consist of highly processed foods.
IRCCS Neuromed’s Department of Epidemiology and Prevention in Pozzilli, Italy, conducted the study, which appears in European Heart Journal.
Dr Bonaccio said Medical News Today“It is important to stress that the definition of ultra-processed foods is not related to nutritional content, but rather to the process used for its preparation and preservation. In other words, even if a food is nutritionally balanced, it can still be considered ultra-processed. “
Dietician in cardiology Michelle Routhenstein, MS RD CDE CDN, who was not involved in the study, said MNT:
“I find a lot of people are hyper focused on calories, so when they read the food label, if the nutrition facts panel meets what they rate it for, they can easily dismiss the processing element from it. So I like to draw the consumer’s attention to read the list of ingredients first.
Routhenstein adds, “When looking at food labels, it can be helpful to understand the NOVA rating scale at a glance. “
The NOVA classification system assigns foods to one of four categories based on the amount of processing they involve:
- Group 1 – Unprocessed or minimally processed foods. These are either unprocessed foods or foods that have undergone minimal processing, such as cooking or pasteurization.
- Group 2 – Processed culinary ingredients. These come from nature or from Group 1 foods. They include olive oil, salt, maple syrup, and other items that people can use to prepare Group 1 foods.
- Group 3 – Processed foods. These are foods created from items in Groups 1 and 2, such as bread and cheese.
- Group 4 – Ultra-processed food and drink products. Manufacturers have formulated these food products to be tasty, inexpensive to buy, and easy to prepare. They include little or no Group 1 products and often contain fats, salt, preservatives, stabilizers, food colors, artificial flavors and refined grains.
Open Food Facts summarizes the foods in group 4: “non-alcoholic beverages, packaged sweet or savory snacks, reconstituted meat products and pre-prepared frozen meals”.
Dr Bonaccio shared with MNT some hypotheses regarding the relationship between FUP and the increased risk of CVD-related death:
“Here we have seen that only a small part of the excess risk of death is attributable to the low nutritional content of these UPFs, and this leads [us] to believe that other non-nutritional factors of FUP are potentially responsible for their adverse health effects.
“They are often packaged in materials that are a source of
“Thus,” concluded Dr. Bonaccio, “it appears that UPF does not exert specific cardiovascular effects but accelerates the occurrence of side events in patients with pre-existing CVD.”
Neuromed Dr Licia Iacoviello says, “It’s time to overcome the distinction between healthy and unhealthy foods purely on the basis of nutritional value.”
Dr Iacoviello notes that knowing, for example, that one is following a Mediterranean diet does not say anything about how the food was prepared. She adds, “Fresh vegetables are not the same as pre-cooked and seasoned vegetables, and so are many other foods. This is a factor to be taken more and more into account when advising citizens on good nutrition.
When asked if there was a way for a consumer to know if a food is a UPF that they should avoid, Dr Bonaccio suggested MNT:
“A simple thing to do for a consumer to make healthier food choices is to look at the number of ingredients a given food contains. If this number exceeds five, that product has a high probability of being an ultra-processed food.