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These common foods may actually shorten your life

Published Dec 29th, 2020 3:14PM EST
processed foods health
Image: Yakobchuk Olena/Adobe

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  • A new study reveals how potentially devastating ultra-processed foods truly are for your health.
  • Foods typically considered “junk food” usually fall into the category of being “ultra-processed,” and scientists have drawn a clear link between these foods and early death.
  • In the new study, researchers determined that regular consumption of processed foods (as opposed to eating whole foods most of the time) increased the risk of death from all causes by 26%.

When you’re looking for a snack or a last-second dinner while on your way home from a long day at work, you might be tempted to reach for foods that are already prepared and ready to eat. This can often mean you’re eating something that falls into the category of “junk food,” which is highly processed and far from nutritionally complete.

Our fast-moving lifestyles have led to junk food becoming an easy option to fill our stomachs when we’re hungry. After all, whipping up a meal from scratch using fresh, whole ingredients takes time, and many of us feel like we don’t have the time or energy to make good food choices. Now, a new study suggests that we should find that time and energy, or we may be sacrificing years or even decades of life.

The research focused on a massive group of over 22,000 individuals who participated in a long-term study that tracked their overall health, habits, and food choices. The study lasted years, with check-ins to track health, illness, and in some cases, death.

What this new study reveals is that, based on the data from this massive long-term survey, ultra-processed foods (UPF) seem to have a strong relationship with shorter lives. Foods that are high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, when eaten frequently, actually increased the risk of all-cause mortality (death from any cause, be it heart disease, stroke, or anything else). The mortality rates of individuals that ate the most processed foods increased by a whopping 26%.

Perhaps even more interesting than the data on the ultra-processed foods was a finding that suggests that other supposedly “bad” food choices, like foods containing saturated fats, didn’t appear to be strongly linked to mortality as a result of heart disease or cerebrovascular issues.

The authors of the paper write:

A high proportion of [ultra-processed foods] in the diet was associated with increased risk of [cardiovascular disease] and all-cause mortality, partly through its high dietary content of sugar. Some established biomarkers of CVD risk were likely to be on the pathway of such associations. These findings should serve as an incentive for limiting consumption of UPF, and encouraging natural or minimally processed foods, as several national nutritional policies recommend.

Put simply, highly processed foods offer little to no nutritional benefit aside from calories, and our continued consumption of them is shortening our lives by a measurable amount.