Findings from two studies recently published in the British Medical Journal highlight the clear impact of consuming ultra-high processed foods to the risk of cardiovascular events and overall mortality.
In a study led by Bernard Srour, M.D., of the University of Paris, researchers found that a 10 percent increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods corresponded to increases in coronary heart and cerebrovascular disease of 13 and 11 percent, respectively, and a 12 percent overall increase in total cardiovascular disease.
The authors highlight the need for improvements in nutritional quality and a reduction in the use of unnecessary additives.
“Various factors in processing, such as nutritional composition of the final product, additives, contact materials, and neoformed contaminants might play a role in these associations,” they wrote. “Further studies are needed to understand the relative contributions.”
While other studies have linked the consumption of ultra-processed food to increased risks of cancer and cardiometabolic disorders, including obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol, this is the first epidemiological study to show an association between a diet high in processed foods and the risk of cardiovascular disease.
The study included 105,159 adults (79.2 percent women, average age 42.7 years). Dietary habits were recorded for 24-hour periods over an average of 5.2 years in which 1,409 participants experienced their first cardiovascular event: 106 myocardial infarctions, 485 angioplasties, 74 acute coronary syndromes, 155 strokes, and 674 transient ischaemic events.
The amount of ultra-processed foods consumed was found to be directly correlated with the incidence of cardiovascular disease: 277 of 100,000 person years for high consumers as compared 242 among low consumers and 253 for the entire population.
The group who consumed the most amount of ultra-processed foods tended to be younger, current smokers, less educated and be less physically active. They also consumed more foods high in carbohydrates and sodium. They consumed less alcohol, but also less fruit, vegetables, and foods rich in fiber. Even though this group had a higher BMI, they had a lower prevalence of metabolic diseases and less of a family history of cardiovascular disease suggesting the onset of cardiovascular disease in this group could very well be acquired.
“It is important to inform consumers about these associations and to implement actions targeting product reformulation taxation, and communication to limit the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet and promote the consumption of unprocessed or minimally processed foods instead,” the authors wrote.