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Eating ultra-processed food can make you prone to 32 diseases: Study

IANS Mar 01, 2024

Regular consumption of ultra-processed foods may increase your risk of 32 diseases, including cancer, heart and lung conditions, mental health disorders, and even early death, according to a large study.

Ultra-processed foods, including packaged baked goods and snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, and ready-to-eat or heat products, undergo multiple industrial processes and often contain colours, emulsifiers, flavours, and other additives. These products also tend to be high in added sugar, fat, and/or salt but are low in vitamins and fibre.

An international team of researchers from Australia, the US, France and Ireland found convincing evidence that higher ultra-processed food intake was associated with around a 50 per cent increased risk of cardiovascular disease-related death, a 48-53 per cent higher risk of anxiety and common mental disorders, and a 12 per cent greater risk of type 2 diabetes.

Published by The BMJ, the findings are based on an umbrella review (a high-level evidence summary) of 45 distinct pooled meta-analyses from 14 review articles involving almost 10 million participants. None were funded by companies involved in the production of ultra-processed foods.

The team also found evidence that indicates higher ultra-processed food intake was associated with a 21 per cent greater risk of death from any cause, a 40-66 per cent increased risk of heart disease-related death, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and sleep problems, and a 22 per cent increased risk of depression.

"These findings support urgent mechanistic research and public health actions that seek to target and minimise ultra-processed food consumption for improved population health," said Melissa M Lane, associate research fellow at Deakin University, Australia.

Moreover, ultra-processed foods damage health and shorten life, said researchers in a linked editorial, calling for public policies and action on ultra-processed foods.

"These include front-of-pack labels, restricting advertising and prohibiting sales in or near schools and hospitals, and fiscal and other measures that make unprocessed or minimally processed foods and freshly prepared meals as accessible and available as and cheaper than ultra-processed foods."

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