Plant-based ultraprocessed foods linked to heart disease, early death, study says


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Do you want to reduce your risk of developing a chronic illness and live longer while helping the planet? Eat a plant-based diet, experts say.

Does this mean you can fill your plate with boxed macaroni and cheese, frozen vegetarian pizza, or fast food fries and have a donut or three for dessert?

While all of these ultra-processed choices may be meat-free, they are not risk-free, said Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian and senior professor at Aston Medical School in Birmingham, UK.

“We can’t always assume that plant-based sugar is healthy, because after all, sugar is plant-based,” Mellor said in a statement. “Many foods that do not contain animal products, including biscuits, crisps, confectionery and soft drinks, are technically plant-based but would not be considered essential as part of a healthy diet by the majority of people.”

In fact, eating such junk plant-based foods significantly increases bad cholesterol and high blood pressure and can lead to heart disease and premature death, according to a new study that the authors call “the first” to show that plant foods Ultra-processed foods are associated with increased cholesterol levels. risk of cardiovascular diseases.

“Eating plant-based products can be beneficial, acting as protection against health problems, or it can pose a risk – it all depends on how processed these foods are,” said the lead author of the paper. study, Renata Levy, researcher at the Epidemiological Research Institute. Center for Nutrition and Health of the University of São Paulo, known as Nupens/USP, in Brazil.

Ultra-processed foods are subjected to multiple industrial processes, such as heating, fracturing of nutrients and proteins, molding and compression, and chemicals have been added to cosmetically change color, odor , taste and texture. Foods in this category are formulated to be hyper-appetizing to human taste buds and are often extremely convenient, requiring little or no preparation time.

Unprocessed foods include fresh fruits and vegetables, eggs and milk. Minimally processed foods include culinary ingredients such as salt, herbs and oils, as well as foods such as canned goods and frozen vegetables that combine culinary ingredients with unprocessed foods.

“Food additives and industrial contaminants in these foods could cause oxidative stress and inflammation, further exacerbating the risks,” said first author Fernanda Rauber, a researcher at Nupens/USP.

“Therefore, our results support the transition to plant-based food choices that take into account the degree of processing to improve cardiovascular health outcomes,” Rauber said in a statement.

Eat minimally processed fresh and frozen plants

The study, published Monday in the journal The Lancet Regional Health – Europe, used data collected from the UK Biobank, a longitudinal study including participants from England, Scotland and Wales. More than 118,000 people aged 40 to 69 answered questions about their diet. This information was then linked to hospital and mortality records on the evolution of cardiovascular risk factors.

Ultra-processed plant-based foods increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by 5% while increasing the risk of premature death by 13%, the study found.

Researchers also found that every 10% replacement of ultra-processed plant-based foods with fresh, frozen, or minimally processed plants reduced the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by 7% while providing a 13% reduction in risk of dying from heart disease.

The study also looked at plant-based meat products, such as sausages, nuggets and burgers, which by their nature fall into the category of ultra-processed products. However, it’s difficult to determine the level of risk these foods carry, said Peter Scarborough, professor of population health at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. He did not participate in the study.

“Plant-based meat alternatives represent only 0.5% of all plant-based ultra-processed foods included in this document,” Scarborough said in a statement.

More than half of the plant-based ultraprocessed foods studied in the paper were packaged breads, pastries, rolls, cakes and cookies.

Carlosgaw/iStockphoto/Getty Images/ FILE

Many ultra-processed foods are plant-based, but that doesn’t make them healthy, experts say.

“So it’s very difficult to conclude from this article that plant-based meat alternatives are bad for your health,” Scarborough added.

Besides, much of what is reported in the paper is already known, said Tom Sanders, emeritus professor of nutrition and dietetics at King’s College London, who was not involved in the study.

“It is well accepted that a well-balanced plant-based diet, such as the Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet, is favorable for cardiovascular health and these already emphasize the avoidance of unhealthy foods such as crisps etc., sugary drinks, cakes, biscuits and confectionery,” he said. said in a statement.

“These latter foods are unhealthy, whether they are manufactured industrially or artisanally. »

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Gn Health

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