Ultra-processed foods linked to heart disease, cancer and death

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Two new studies have linked ultra-processed foods to increased risks of colorectal cancer, heart disease and all-cause mortality. Kim Steele/Getty Images
  • Previous research has shown that poor diet may be associated with 1 in 5 deaths worldwide.
  • Recently, researchers at Tufts University found that a diet high in ultra-processed foods puts a person at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Another team of Italian researchers suggests that people with the lowest quality diet and the highest levels of consumption of ultra-processed foods have a higher risk of all-cause and cardiovascular death.

The food we eat may play a much bigger role in health and longevity than many people realize. In reality, Previous search suggests that 1 in 5 deaths worldwide could be avoided by improving diet.

Now two new studies recently published in the journal The BMJ examine the effects of ultra-processed foods on certain health conditions.

In one study, Tufts University researchers found that a diet high in ultra-processed foods increases the risk of colorectal cancer in men.

Another study of a research team at IRCCS Neuromed in Pozzilli, Italy, says adults with the lowest quality diet and highest consumption of ultra-processed foods have an increased risk of heart disease and all-cause mortality.

Ultra-processed foods are a category of the NOVA food classification system designed by researchers at the Center for Epidemiological Studies in Health and Nutrition at the School of Public Health at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.

The NOVA system classifies foods into four different groups:

  • Group 1: unprocessed or minimally processed foods
  • Group 2: processed cooking ingredients (oils, fats, salt and sugar)
  • Group 3: processed foods
  • Group 4: ultra-processed foods

Ultra-processed foods include products made in an industrial setting from ingredients that are primarily or entirely made in a laboratory or extracted from foods.

In general, ultra-processed foods can be identified in a product if at least one item in its ingredient list is characteristic of the ultra-processed food group, which is defined by:

Here are some examples of ultra-processed foods:

  • sodas and sugary juices
  • sports and energy drinks
  • Energy bars
  • powdered and instant soups
  • margarine
  • mass-produced and packaged bread and baked goods made with hydrogenated fats, sugar and additives
  • prepared meals such as pizza, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and fish fingers
  • infant formula
  • meal replacement drinks
  • mass-produced ice cream
  • candies
  • sweetened yogurt

Previous research has shown that ultra-processed foods make up about 58% of Americans’ diets and are associated with weight gain, especially among women.

According to American Cancer Society (ACS).

Dr. Fang Fang Zhang is Associate Professor and Chair of the Division of Nutritional Epidemiology and Data Science at the Gerald J. and Dorothy R. Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and corresponding author and co-lead author of the colorectal cancer study.

She said DTM that previous studies have linked ultra-processed foods to higher risks of obesity, high blood pressure, cholesteroland certain cancersbut few studies have assessed the association between consumption of ultra-processed foods and colorectal cancer risk.

“Dietary risk factors for colorectal cancer include high intake of red and processed meats and low intake of dietary fiber and whole grains,” she explained.

“Ultra-processed foods include processed meats and are low in dietary fiber. Ultra-processed [foods] are also energy dense and contain a high level of added sugars, which contribute to obesity, a known risk factor for colorectal cancer. These motivated us to study the association between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and the risk of colorectal cancer in the US adult population.

– Dr. Fang Fang Zhang, corresponding author and co-lead author of the colorectal cancer study

After analyzing data from more than 3,200 cases of colorectal cancer, Dr. Zhang and his team found that men who ate the most ultra-processed foods had a 29% higher risk of developing colorectal cancer than those who ate the least ultra-processed foods.

However, the researchers reported no correlation between overall consumption of ultra-processed foods and increased risk of colorectal cancer in women.

Additionally, researchers found that certain types of ultra-processed foods put both men and women at higher risk for colorectal cancer.

For example, men who ate more ready-to-eat meat, poultry or seafood products and sugary drinks had a higher risk, as did women who ate ready-to-eat meals. and prepared hot.

Dr. Anton Bilchik, surgical oncologist and director of the division of general surgery at Providence Saint John’s Health Center and chief of medicine at Saint John’s Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., said DTM he found this study “fascinating”.

“We certainly know of the higher risk of colorectal cancer with processed foods, such as bacon and other processed products, which may be linked to preservatives, nitrates, and a higher association with red meat,” a- he explained. “But this is really the first study describing ultra-processed foods.”

Dr Bilchik said he found it striking that the study showed an increase in colorectal cancer mainly in men and that it appears to be more associated with distal or cancers of the left colon.

“What’s fascinating about what we’re learning, not just from this study but also from other studies, is that well-known risk factors such as obesity, diabetes (and) smoking are not the the only factors implicated in an increased risk in colorectal cancer,” Dr. Bilchik said.

“Fresh food, which is commonly described as going to the supermarket and shopping from the outside in, plays an important role as an anti-inflammatory and supporting good bacteria and immune cells in disease control.”

– Dr. Anton Bilchik, Chief of Medicine at Saint John’s Cancer Institute in Santa Monica

“Right now we are experiencing an epidemic of young patients being diagnosed with colon cancer. under 45“, Dr. Bilchik continued.

“Colon cancer is increasing in young people more than any other cancer and every oncologist, medical and surgical, is utterly perplexed by this huge change. The only plausible explanation relates to what this article is referring to, namely an increased use of processed foods and the disruption of cells in our body and the bacteria and immune cells that help fight cancer or reduce the risk of developing cancer. cancer.

Researchers believe that cardiovascular disease is responsible for 32% of all deaths globally every year.

Clinicians have known for some time that nutrition plays an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular diseases. And Previous search links a diet high in ultra-processed foods to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

In this new study, lead author Dr. Marialaura Bonaccio, Senior Epidemiologist in the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention at IRCCS Neuromed in Pozzilli, Italy, and her team compared two different ways of looking at food : the traditional way of evaluating foods based on their nutritional content only, such as Food Standards Agency Nutrient Profiling System (FSAm-NPS) and by the NOVA classification system.

“The goal was basically to see what kind of perspective matters most in defining the long-term mortality risk of our participants,” Bonaccio explained.

Researchers found that people with the lowest quality diet according to the FSAm-NPS Food Index and the highest ultra-processed food intake according to the NOVA classification system were at highest risk of death from all causes. combined and cardiovascular.

“However, when these two dietary dimensions were considered together, we found that a higher degree of food processing was more relevant to this increased risk than poor nutritional quality of the diet,” added Dr. Bonaccio.

Lauren Pelehach Sepe, a clinical nutritionist at the Kellman Wellness Center in New York, NY, said a poor quality diet, which leads to an imbalanced microbiome and inflammation, is at the root of many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

To research has shown that inflammation is a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” Sepe said. DTM.

“Although historically the treatment of cardiovascular disease has focused on lowering cholesterol, we are increasingly finding that even if you improve these blood markers, treat overall inflammation is essential for reversing and preventing cardiovascular disease.

“We know that the norm western dietwhich includes many ultra-processed foods, is highly inflammatory, [which means] it also increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.

– Lauren Pelehach Sepe, clinical nutritionist at Kellman Wellness Center

For people looking to improve their diet to reduce their risk of developing cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and other health issues, Sepe suggests:

Add more healthy foods to your daily diet

Rather than focusing on what you can’t eat, Sepe said “when people start making changes to their diet, they often feel like they need to make a major change overnight. , which includes giving up all their favorite foods.

“Start slow and add new foods every week,” she added. “Over time, the healthy foods will begin to ‘crowd out’ the old ones.”

Start cooking your own meals

“Most ready-to-heat foods are high in added sugars, salt and additives, which are highly inflammatory,” Sepe said.

“Furthermore, they are often contained in plastic containers which, especially when heated, release chemicals into the food you eat. These are not only highly inflammatory, but can also be carcinogenic.

Take a good quality probiotic daily

Although diet is essential for health, Sepe said “adding a daily probiotic will help improve the balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome, which also helps reduce inflammation.”

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