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Ultra-processed foods increase the risk of premature death: the Harvard study

A study lasted thirty years correlation between diets rich in ultra-processed foods – such as sugary drinks, or a large part of packaged foods, especially meat-based ones – and the risk of premature death.

The study, carried out by a group of researchers fromat Harvard University's TH Chan School of Public Health and published on British Medical Journal, analyzed the food records of 74,563 women and 39,501 men (all with a medical history that had no history of cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes). A sample of over one hundred thousand cases, who were classified into four different groups based on their food records (unprocessed, minimally processed, processed and ultra-processed foods) to understand if there was a correlation between their daily diet and risk of a premature death. Participants reported to researchers periodic updates on their lifestyle habits and state of health via questionnaires completed every two years. The follow-up time taken into consideration was from the date of return of the first questionnaire until the date of death (notified by the descendants) or the end of the study period (which lasted thirty years).

The results of the study

In total, in the period examined, 48,193 deaths were documented (8,005 males and 30,188 females): 13,557 were related to cancer, 11,416 were due to cardiovascular diseases, 3,926 deaths were due to respiratory causes and 6,343 had neurodegenerative causes.

The picture that emerges is that of an increase – albeit slight – in risk for those with a diet rich in ultra-processed foods. The sample cataloged in the group of those who declared an ultra-processed diet they had a 4% increase in the risk of death over thirty years of follow-up. Examining the causes of death in more detail, the researchers found that the consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with an 8% increase in the risk of brain diseases, such as dementia.

In reverse, a better quality of daily diet was associated with a decrease in mortalityparticularly in non-smoking individuals and those who consumed less alcohol.

What are ultra-processed foods

The study's lead author, the Dr. Mingyang Song, associate professor of clinical epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard's School of Public Health, wanted to explain that not all processed foods are created equally. For example, ultra-processed whole grains do not pose the same risks as processed meatsof the breakfast products and gods artificially sweetened foods or drinkswhich are the foods that, says the study, hide the highest margin of risk.

In particular, those consumers who consistently reported the highest percentage of increased risk were recorded meat consumption, poultry And seafood. These are therefore the foods, together to ready-to-eat products it's at many other packaged foods – often more widespread in everyday life than one might think – to be accused by this study.

This type of product, as Harvard University explained in a study last year, «It makes up almost 60% of the foods in the typical American diet», and an ever-increasing component – often linked to cultural and socio-economic factors – of the diets of Europeans, including Italians. “Ultra-processed foods, typically of low nutritional quality and high energy density, dominate the food supply of high-income countries and their consumption is significantly increasing in middle-income countries,” explains the study in its introductory part . «In addition to having a low nutritional quality, ultra-processed foods can contain harmful substances, such as additives and contaminants formed during processing».

Source: Vanity Fair

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