Could ultra-processed foods be linked to premature death?

It may seem like eating cakes and chips is worth risking diabetes and hypertension, but what about death?

Years after linking junk food and chronic health conditions, a new study found a correlation between processed foods and an increased risk of premature and preventable death.

According to the study, the deaths of 57,000 Brazilians between the ages of 30 and 69 in 2019 – more than 10 percent of premature deaths among that age group – were due to the consumption of ultra-processed foods. It was published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Shane Joy, PA, a primary care provider with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group, explains ultra-processed foods and what a healthy diet should look like so you can live a healthy life.

> Worried about your weight? Take this health risk assessment.

processed vs. ultra-processed

Processed foods include any food that has ingredients added before packaging, Joy said.

“It doesn’t matter if the ingredients are beneficial or not. As long as the food is altered before it is packaged, it is considered processed,” Joy said.

Ultra-processed foods, however, are foods that have gone through multiple processing cycles before packaging. Ultimately, he said, they end up far from their raw form.

“The more processes a food goes through, the more nutritional value is lost.”

> This is your brain on junk food: Ultra-processed foods linked to cognitive decline

There are healthy processed foods.

“That doesn’t mean all processed foods are unhealthy. It just means we need to be careful about eating processed foods,” Joy said.

An example of a healthy processed food is whole wheat bread, while an unhealthy processed food is cinnamon raisin bread.

In general, the more ingredients are listed, the less healthy the food, Joy said. Looking at ingredient labels when shopping can help, as can writing down percentages of nutritional values ​​such as:

  • carbs
  • proteins
  • fats
  • Sodium

> Related: Does a Low Cholesterol Diet Really Lower Your Cholesterol?

The link between diet and overall health

Diet dictates our health, including energy levels, sleep cycles, cholesterol levels, mental health, and blood pressure.

“As I like to tell my patients, our digestive system is our second brain. What we put in our stomachs affects everything we do,” Joy said.

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Balance is key.

A healthy diet should consist of a wide variety of foods, including among the healthy options.

“While it’s great to eat a green salad every day, we don’t give ourselves a wide range of nutrition by doing so,” Joy explained.

Ideal meals should consist of a variety of:

  • Vegetables
  • Whole Carbs
  • Low fat protein (chicken and fish)
  • fruits
  • Dairy products

MyPlate is a great resource for building a well-balanced diet. Also, when shopping, Joy recommends using Shop Simple, a program offered by the US Department of Agriculture that allows you to find local savings and view affordable foods for your next healthy meal.


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