Ultra-Processed Foods Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Disease and Early Death
Are ultra-processed foods like savory snacks, frozen meals and soft drinks really bad for your health? A pair of European studies published Wednesday gives fresh evidence that you are better off avoiding them.
The studies, which both appeared in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), followed groups of people over a period of time in France and Spain and found that those who ate more factory-made foods were at greater risk for heart disease and early death respectively.
Two large European studies published by @bmj_latest today link consumption of highly processed (“ultra-processed”)… https://t.co/NthJo6EOWX— BMJ (@BMJ)1559199626.0
This is concerning because these foods are becoming a larger part of people's diets.
"Ultraprocessed foods already make up more than half of the total dietary energy consumed in high-income countries such as USA, Canada and the UK," senior author of the Spanish study and professor of preventive medicine and public health at the Universidad de Navarra Maira Bes-Rastrollo wrote in an email to CNN. "In the case of Spain, consumption of ultraprocessed food almost tripled between 1990 and 2010."
So what exactly did the studies find?
The study Bes-Rastrollo participated in followed nearly 20,000 volunteers aged 20 to 91 between 1999 and 2014, asking them detailed questions about the food they ate every two years. It found that those who ate more than four servings a day of highly-processed foods were 62 percent more likely to die early. That risk went up 18 percent for every extra serving of factory-made food they consumed.
Bes-Rastrollo told CNN her study showed results that agreed with other studies in France and the U.S., which, to her, lent "support" to the idea that ultra-processed diets actually cause ill health.
The French study, conducted by the University of Paris, followed more than 105,000 people over five years. It found that, for every 10 percent increase in the amount of ultra-processed foods someone consumed, their risk of heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular disease rose around 12 percent, according to The Guardian. The difference in outcome between low and high processed diets was not huge — the results indicated there would be 277 cases of heart disease for every 100,000 people who consumed lots of high-processed foods compared to 242 cases for every 100,000 people who did not. But study author Mathilde Touvier told The Guardian there was enough of a difference to justify abstaining from high-processed snacks.
"The public should avoid these foods as much as they can," she said. "We need to go back to more basic diets."
What Are Ultra-Processed Foods?
Researchers classified foods according to something called the NOVA classification system, which puts foods in four categories based on how they are made, as CNN explained:
The "unprocessed or minimally processed" food category included fruits, vegetables, legumes, milk, eggs, meats, poultry, fish and seafood, yogurt, grains (white rice and pasta) and natural juice. Salt, sugar, honey, olive oil, butter and lard were listed in the category of "processed ingredients," while "processed foods" included cheeses, breads, beer, wine, cured traditional ham and bacon. The final category encompassed ultraprocessed foods such as flan, chorizo, sausages, mayonnaise, potato chips, pizza, cookies, chocolates and candies, artificially sweetened beverages and whisky, gin and rum.
The two studies follow other research suggesting that these highly-processed foods are bad for human health. A previous study had linked consuming them to increased cancer risk, according to a BMJ editorial published alongside Wednesday's studies.
"These findings add to growing evidence of an association between ultra-processed food and adverse health outcomes that has important implications for dietary advice and food policies," editorial authors Mark A. Lawrence and Phillip I. Baker wrote. "The dietary advice is relatively straightforward: eat less ultra-processed food and more unprocessed or minimally processed food."
"The dietary advice is relatively straightforward: eat less ultra-processed food and more unprocessed or minimally… https://t.co/jaCz6PK929— The BMJ (@The BMJ)1559203237.0
Why these foods are harmful is still a question for further research. A U.S. National Institutes of Health study suggested processed foods might encourage people to eat more. Researchers monitored all the food eaten by volunteers for a month and found that they ate 500 more calories a day when given the ultra-processed items, BBC News reported.
Other possibilities include the fact that these foods lack nutrients and fiber, are easy to eat, are more immediately attractive than healthier options and contain food additives that, while tested for safety individually, may have harmful effects when eaten in combination, BBC News said.
However, some question the "ultra-processed" category. Biochemist and University of Reading Associate Professor of Nutrition and Health Gunter Kuhnle said the studies were "very well and thoroughly conducted," but thought the NOVA categories were not clear.
"While 'ultra-processed' food is commonly assumed to be food that is extensively processed ... it actually contains foods which undergo few processing steps, such as hamburgers, crisps or chips, or those that contain preservatives that have been used for centuries such as preserves," he wrote, as CNN reported. "It is also not obvious why salami is considered to be ultra-processed, yet cheese, which often requires considerably more processing steps and additives, is not."
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
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Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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