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.