Here are the ultraprocessed foods you most need to avoid, according to a 30-year study

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Eating ultra-processed foods is associated with an early risk of death, according to a 30-year study, but different foods have different impacts.

Processed meats and sugary foods and drinks are not correlated with the same risks as ultra-processed whole grains, for example, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Mingyang Song, associate professor of clinical epidemiology and in nutrition at the TH Chan School of Public Health at Harvard.

The study analyzed data from more than 100,000 healthcare professionals in the United States with no history of cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes. From 1986 to 2018, participants provided information about their health and lifestyle habits every two years.

Every four years, they completed a detailed dietary questionnaire.

The group eating the least ultra-processed foods ate an average of about three servings per day, while the highest group ate an average of seven servings per day, according to the study published Wednesday in the journal BMJ.

Those who ate the most had a 4% higher risk of death from all causes, including a 9% increased risk of neurodegenerative deaths, the data showed.

Adam Hoglund/iStockphoto/Getty Images

Meats have been shown to have a greater impact on the risk of death than many other types of ultra-processed foods, according to the new study.

Song called the correlation “moderate,” noting that the link was not as strong among all types of ultra-processed foods.

“This positive association is primarily driven by a few subgroups, including processed meat and sugary or artificially sweetened beverages,” he said.

The results of this study were consistent with those of hundreds of others in the field, but what makes this one unique is its analysis of different subgroups within the ultra-processed food category, said Dr. Marion Nestle , Paulette Goddard Distinguished Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University.

Song wouldn’t necessarily advise a complete rejection of all ultra-processed foods because it’s a diverse category, he said.

“Cereals, whole grain breads, for example, are also considered ultra-processed foods, but they contain various beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals,” he said. “On the other hand, I think people should try to avoid or limit the consumption of certain ultra-processed foods, like processed meat, sugary drinks, and also potentially artificially sweetened drinks.”

There are also other questions that need to be answered when it comes to ultra-processed foods.

First, the recent study is robust due to the time span covered, but it is an observational study. That means that while researchers can see a correlation, they can’t say that foods caused the deaths, said Dr. Peter Wilde, a distinguished research fellow at the Quadram Institute Bioscience in the United Kingdom.

Researchers also need to pay more attention to the components of ultra-processed foods that could impact health – whether they are whether food additives, emulsifiers or flavorings – to advise governments and institutions on how to regulate food, Song said.

Researchers also found that the most important factor in reducing the risk of death is the quality of a person’s overall diet, Song said.

“If people maintain a generally healthy diet, I don’t think they need be afraid or panicked,” he said. “Overall diet remains the predominant factor determining health outcomes. »

A healthy diet is varied, with as many colorful fruits and vegetables and whole grains as possible, Wilde said.

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“If you’re concerned about food additives, choose foods with low levels of additives,” he said in an email. “Just be careful about the nutritional content (of ultra-processed foods) you choose to consume.”

It is also important to recognize that foods should be consumed in a balanced manner. Fruit juices contain beneficial vitamins, minerals and antioxidants when consumed in moderation, but too much sugar can negate their benefits, Wilde said.

“It’s not black and white,” he said. “A particular food is neither good nor bad, it contains elements of both, and the balance between the two can depend on how much you eat.”

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