Recent research has highlighted a concerning connection between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and the risk of developing multiple chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Helen Croker from the World Cancer Research Fund International, which funded the study, emphasizes the significant link found between high consumption of ultra-processed animal products and sweetened beverages, and the increased risk of cancer and other diseases like stroke or diabetes.
However, Tom Sanders, a nutrition and dietetics expert, notes the increased risk as modest, pegging it at a 9% rise in multimorbidity with higher ultra-processed food intake. He points out the limitations in the study, such as reliance on long-past food intake questionnaires, which may not accurately reflect recent dietary changes.
Ian Johnson, a nutrition researcher, acknowledges the difficulty in conclusively proving ultra-processed foods as the direct cause of these diseases. Yet, he suggests that the health risks may stem from these foods either being directly harmful or displacing healthier options in diets.
The study, published in The Lancet, was conducted on 266,666 individuals from seven European countries, tracked over 11 years. It used the NOVA classification system to categorize food, taking into account how foods are made, beyond just their nutritional content.
The findings show that not all ultra-processed foods pose the same risk. Certain categories, like ultra-processed animal products and sweetened beverages, showed a clear association with increased health risks. In contrast, other groups like ultra-processed breads and cereals or plant-based products did not demonstrate a significant association with the development of chronic conditions.
Lead author Reynalda Córdova and co-author Heinz Freisling suggest that while it's not necessary to completely avoid ultra-processed foods, their consumption should be limited. They advocate for a dietary preference towards fresh or minimally processed foods.
ProLife Home Care