Eating more than four daily rations of ultra-processed foods increases the risk of mortality by 62% for diverse causes of mortality, independently of other causes. Moreover, for each additional ration the risk grows by 18%. This is the main conclusion of a study in almost 20,000 university graduates from all over Spain who are part of the cohort ‘Follow-up University of Navarra’ (SUN), directed by Miguel A. Martínez-González, from the Center for Biomedical Research in the Physiopathology Network of Obesity and Nutrition (CIBEROBN).
The new work, published in the British Medical Journal, records the consumption of food and beverages for 15 years (1999-2014) of 19,899 volunteers (12,113 women and 7,786 men), through a frequency questionnaire. At the time of the study there were 335 deaths.
Maira Bes-Rastrollo, principal author and researcher at the University of Navarra, affirms that “previous studies had already found in ultra-processed [foods] the origin of numerous cardio-metabolic health problems, such as an increased risk of overweight and even depression.”
According to the NOVA classification, ultra-processed foods are industrial formulations made from refined ingredients (sugar, starches, vegetable oils, salt) or synthesized (trans fats, hydrolyzed protein, additives), and do not contain any recognizable whole food.
If a product has more than five ingredients, it is probably ultra-processed, such as sugary soft drinks, sausages, sugary dairy desserts, cookies, industrial pastries or breakfast cereals.
They are characterized by low nutritional quality, convenience (they are ready to be consumed at any time, without the need for preparation), availability (the environment favors their consumption) and hyperpalatability (they are extremely tasty).
In addition, they displace the consumption of beneficial foods and move away from truly healthy eating patterns such as the traditional Mediterranean diet, which has been associated with a strong reduction in cardiovascular risk and breast cancer in the PREDIMED study.