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Health risks linked to processed meats,  soft drinks



Health risks linked to processed meats,  soft drinks
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Eating higher levels of ultra processed food may shorten lifespans by more than 10%, according to a new, unpublished study of over 500,000 people whom researchers followed for nearly three decades.

The risk went up to 15% for men and 14% for women once the data was adjusted, said study lead author Erikka Loftfield, an investigator at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

Asked about their consumption of 124 foods, people in the top 90th percentile of ultra processed food consumption said overly processed drinks topped their list.

“Diet soft drinks were the key contributor to ultra processed food consumption. The second one was sugary soft drinks,” Loftfield said. “Beverages are a very important component of the diet and the contribution to ultra processed food.”

Refined grains such as ultra processed breads and baked goods ranked next in popularity, the study found.

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“This is one more large, long-duration cohort study confirming the association between UPF (ultra processed food) intake and all-cause mortality, particularly from cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes,” said Carlos Monteiro, emeritus professor of nutrition and public health at Brazil’s University of São Paulo, in an email.

Monteiro coined the term ultra processed food and created the NOVA food classification system, which looks beyond nutrients to how foods are made. Monteiro was not involved in the study, but several members of the NOVA classification system were coauthors.

The NOVA classification system sorts foods from minimally processed — whole foods such as fruits and vegetables — to processed foods such as deli meat and sausage — to ultra processed. Ultra Processed foods contain ingredients “never or rarely used in kitchens, or classes of additives whose function is to make the final product palatable or more appealing,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The list of additives includes preservatives to resist mold and bacteria; emulsifiers to keep incompatible ingredients from separating; artificial colorings and dyes; anti-foaming, bulking, bleaching, gelling and glazing agents; and added or altered sugar, salt and fats designed to make food appetizing.


The preliminary study, presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition in Chicago, analyzed dietary data gathered in 1995 from nearly 541,000 Americans ages 50 to 71 who were participating in the US National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study.

Researchers linked the dietary data to death rates over the next 20 to 30 years. Compared with those in the bottom 10% of ultraprocessed food consumption, people who ate the most overly processed food were more likely to die from heart disease or diabetes, according to the study. Unlike other studies, however, researchers found no rise in cancer-related death.

Some ultra processed foods carried more of a risk than others, Loftfield said: “Highly processed meat and soft drinks were a couple of the subgroups of ultra processed food most strongly associated with mortality risk.”

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Processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages, ham, corned beef, jerky and deli meats are also not recommended; studies have linked red and processed meats to bowel and stomach cancers, heart disease, diabetes and early death from any cause.

“The evidence from this new study indicates that processed meat may be one of the most unhealthy foods, but people do not tend to view ham or chicken nuggets as UPF (ultra processed food),” said Rosie Green, a professor of environment, food and health at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in a statement. She was not involved in the study.

The study found that people who consumed the most ultra processed food were younger and heavier, and had an overall poorer quality of diet than those who ate fewer ultra processed foods. However, the increased health risk could not be explained by these differences, because even people with normal weight and better diets were also at some risk for early death from ultra processed foods, the study found.

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