Supermarket shelves are increasingly flooded with ultra-processed foods produced by extensive industrial processing, which are generally low in essential nutrients, high in sugar, oil, and salt, and liable to be overconsumed.
In a new study, researchers confirm that these foods are harmful to health.
The research was conducted by a team at the IRCCS Neuromed, in Italy.
The study included over 22,000 people. The team analyzed their eating habits and following their health conditions for over eight years.
They found that those consuming a high amount of ultra-processed foods had an increased risk of death from any cause of 26%, and of 58% specifically from heart diseases.
The main culprit could be sugar, which is added in substantial amounts in ultra-processed foods. But the answer seems more complex.
According to the analyses, the excess of sugar does play a role, but it accounts only for 40% of the increased death risk.
The team’s idea is that an important part is played by industrial processing itself, which is able to induce deep modifications in the structure and composition of nutrients.
The team says that efforts aimed to lead the population toward a healthier diet can no longer be addressed only by calorie counting or by vague references to the Mediterranean diet.
Young people, in particular, are increasingly exposed to pre-packaged foods, which are easy to prepare and consume, extremely attractive, and generally cheap.
This study, and other international studies going in the same direction, shows that minimally processed foods must be paramount for healthy nutrition.
Spending a few more minutes cooking a lunch instead of warming a container in the microwave, or maybe preparing a sandwich for our children instead of putting a pre-packaged snack in their backpack are actions that will reward us over the years.
One author of the study is Marialaura Bonaccio, a researcher at the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention.
The study is published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
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