Written by Corrie Pelc on September 6, 2022 — Fact checked by Jill Seladi-Schulman, Ph.D.
HICGI News Agency
- Prior research has shown that poor diet may be associated with 1 in 5 deaths globally.
- Recently, researchers at Tufts University found that a diet high in ultra-processed foods puts a person at greater risk for developing colorectal cancer.
- Another team of Italian researchers suggests that people with the lowest-quality diet and highest levels of ultra-processed food consumption have a higher risk of both all-cause and cardiovascular death.
The food we eat can play a much greater role in health and longevity than many people may realize. In fact, previous researchTrusted Source suggests that 1 in 5 deaths around the world could be prevented 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.
Another study from a research team at IRCCS NeuromedTrusted Source in Pozzilli, Italy says that adults with the lowest-quality diet and highest ultra-processed food consumption have an increased risk for heart disease and all-cause mortality.
Ultra-processed foods are a category of the NOVA food classification system designed by researchers from 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 culinary ingredients (oils, fats, salt, and sugar)
- Group 3: processed foods
- Group 4: ultra-processed foods
Examples of ultra-processed foods include:
- sodas and sweetened juices
- sports and energy drinks
- energy bars
- powdered and instant soups
- mass-produced and packaged bread and baked goods made with hydrogenated fats, sugar, and additives
- pre-prepared meals such as pizza, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and fish sticks
- infant formulas
- meal replacement beverages
- mass-produced ice cream
- sweetened yogurt
“We’ve certainly known about the higher risk of colorectal cancer with processed food, such as bacon and other processed products, which may be related to preservatives, nitrates, and a higher association with red meat,” he explained. “But this is really the first study describing ultra-processed food.”
“Colon cancer is increasing among young people more so than any other cancer and every oncologist, both medical and surgical, is just totally perplexed by this enormous change. The only plausible explanation relates to what this paper is referring to, which is an increased use in processed food and the disruption of cells in our body and bacteria and immune cells that help fight cancer or reduce the chances of developing cancer.”
Researchers estimate cardiovascular disease is responsible for 32% of all deathsTrusted Source globally each year.
Clinicians have known for some time that nutritionTrusted Source plays an important role in preventing cardiovascular disease. And previous researchTrusted Source links a diet high in ultra-processed foods to an increased risk for 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 diet: the traditional way of rating food based on its nutritional content only, such as the Food Standards Agency Nutrient Profiling SystemTrusted Source (FSAm-NPS), and through the NOVA classification system.
“The aim was basically to see what type of perspective counts most in terms of defining the long-term risk of mortality of our participants,” Bonaccio explained.
The researchers found that people with the lowest quality diet based on the FSAm-NPS dietary index and the highest ultra-processed food intake based on the NOVA classification system were at the highest risk for both all-cause and cardiovascular death.
“However, when both these food dimensions were taken into account jointly, we found that a higher degree of food processing was more relevant for this increased risk than the poor nutritional quality of the diet,” Dr. Bonaccio added.
Lauren Pelehach Sepe, a clinical nutritionist at the Kellman Wellness Center in New York, NY, said that a poor-quality diet, which leads to an imbalanced microbiome and inflammation, is a root cause of many chronic illnesses, including cardiovascular disease.
“ResearchTrusted Source has shown that inflammation is a key risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” Sepe told MNT.
“Although historically the focus of the treatment for cardiovascular disease was on lowering cholesterol, more and more we are seeing that even if you improve these blood markers, addressing overall inflammationTrusted Source is key to reversing and preventing cardiovascular disease.”