Well-Being Longevity

Processed foods linked to heart disease

Story at a glance

  • Researchers cross-referenced dietary habits with incidents of cardiovascular disease and episodes to understand the relationship between processed foods and heart health.
  • People who ate excess amounts of processed foods, such as protein bars and cereals, were shown to have an increased risk for heart and other health problems.

An excess amount of processed foods is a risk factor in developing cardiovascular disease, a new study contends, adding to the body of evidence outlining the impacts a poor diet can have on heart health.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, studied a sample of more than 3,000 adults without cardiovascular disease (CVD), focusing on their dietary patterns in relation to their lifestyle and habits.

Researchers then cross-referenced these with mortality data associated with CVD incidence to look for any relationship between processed food intake and CVD with potential mortality.

The results indicate that a higher consumption of processed foods is associated with an increased risk of CVD cases and mortality. Specifically, each additional daily serving of processed foods contributes to a 7 percent higher risk of severe heart problems. 


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Some common instances of processed foods include breakfast cereals, protein bars, any industry-produced breads — including foods commonly marketed as “healthy.”

Fortunately, CVD events associated with processed food consumption is preventable.

“The consumption of ultra-processed foods makes up over half of the daily calories in the average American diet and are increasingly consumed worldwide. As poor diet is a major modifiable risk factor for heart disease, it represents a critical target in prevention efforts,” said Filippa Juul, a faculty fellow at the New York University School of Public Health and lead author of the study.

In addition to heart disease, the sample also recorded 5.8 percent of participants had diabetes, and 19 percent reported having high blood pressure; both of these ailments were higher among participants who consumed larger amounts of ultra-processed foods. 

The average age of the 3,000 volunteers in the sample population was 53.5, with female participants composing more than half of the sample. 

Report authors suggest taxing some processed foods, such as soda with sugar additives, and revising national dietary guidelines to emphasize whole foods as two solutions.

“We must also implement policies that increase the availability, accessibility and affordability of nutritious, minimally processed foods, especially in disadvantaged populations,” the report abstract reads. “At the clinical level, there is a need for increased commitment to individualized nutrition counseling for adopting sustainable heart-healthy diets.”


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