A recent study has found a connection between the consumption of certain ultra-processed foods and an increased risk of developing multiple health conditions, such as heart disease and cancer. The study, which involved a large cohort of participants across seven European countries, found that processed animal-based products and artificial sweeteners posed the greatest risk. However, other ultra-processed foods like breads, cereals, and plant-based products were not associated with an increased risk.
The study, funded by the World Cancer Research Fund International and other cancer research groups, examined data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition study. Participants were initially free of cancer, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes, and their food and drink consumption was assessed through questionnaires over a 12-month period. After a median follow-up period of 11.2 years, a significant number of participants developed multiple chronic diseases.
The study's findings highlight the importance of universal access to fresh and minimally processed foods. The lead study author emphasized that while it is not necessary to avoid all ultra-processed foods, their consumption should be limited, and preference should be given to fresh or minimally processed options. It is worth noting that many people choose ultra-processed foods for reasons of convenience, meeting nutritional requirements, or economic factors.
Health and nutrition experts recommend reading food labels to avoid hidden sugars, excessive sodium, and other harmful additives. They suggest opting for whole-grain cereals over sugary cereals and choosing whole-grain or sprouted bread over white bread. For vegetarians and vegans, minimally processed tofu and tempeh may be healthier alternatives to heavily processed plant-based products.
Ultra-processed foods are typically mass-produced and include items like packaged breakfast cereals, cookies, reconstituted meat products, instant noodles, and sweetened sodas. These foods often contain artificial flavors and sweeteners and have lengthy lists of ingredients. Previous research has linked their consumption to various health conditions, including heart disease and cancer.
In conclusion, while not all ultra-processed foods pose a health risk, certain ones, such as processed animal-based products and artificial sweeteners, have been found to increase the risk of developing multiple chronic diseases. It is advisable to limit the consumption of these foods and prioritize fresh or minimally processed options in one's diet.