A study published on Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) based on research conducted in France found that an increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods appears to result in overall higher mortality risk in adults.  According to CNN, adults face a 14% higher risk of early death for each 10% increase in the amount of ultra-processed foods consumed.  What counts as an ultra-processed food?  These are defined in the study as “foods that are manufactured industrially from multiple ingredients that usually include additives used for technological and/or cosmetic purposes.”

  • Adults in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. all consume around 60% of their diet as ultra-processed food.
  • Because “ultra-processed” is a huge category of foods lumped together, the researchers lost sensitivity in their results and cannot pinpoint what exactly is causing the increase.
  • The study found that ultra-processed food consumption was associated with younger age, lower income, lower educational level, living alone, higher BMI and lower physical activity level.
  • The research also affirms that eating ultra-processed foods can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and cancer.
  • Ultra-processed foods, according to the study, accounts for more than 14% of the weight of total food consumed and about 29% of total calories.

The study found only a correlation between these foods and higher mortality rates — it does not prove that ultra-processed food consumption causes premature death. But the researchers argued that such foods could shorten a person’s life span by increasing the risk of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases.

Why This Matters:  The precise impact of each of the chemical additives and preservatives in our food is not studied nearly enough.  But we already knew that pre-packaged foods and their chemical preservatives are not good for us – no big surprise here.  This study is significant because it quantifies the risks of consuming so much pre-packaged food — and the risk is significant.  Think twice before taking a bite of or putting these items in your kids’ lunch:  packaged snacks; ice cream; candies; energy bars; processed meats; ready-made meals; and packaged cookies, cakes, and pastries.  This is exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals that we can control by choosing wisely what we eat.  Bottom line — eat healthy, and you will live longer. 

What You Can Do:  The authors recommend that consumers buy only those products “with the least number of ingredients and with ingredients you understand.”

To Go Deeper:  Watch the video below about additives that are common in the U.S. and banned in other countries.

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