As readers of this blog can attest, I have a lot to say about the nutritionally inadequate and poisonous standard American diet and lifestyle. Today, a seven-year study published online by the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that eating highly processed foods appears to be associated with a 14% higher mortality.
There’s an ever-increasing amount of evidence that frequently eating processed foods is associated with chronic diseases like high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure, and cancer. However, this is the first study to look at processed food consumption and mortality.
Highly Processed Food Not Healthy
Highly processed foods include ready-to-eat foods like packaged snacks, sugary drinks, breads, candies, ready-made meals, and processed meats with little nutritional value. These have a high-calorie content along with being low in fiber and high in carbohydrates (including added sugar), saturated fats, unhealthy additives like artificial coloring and chemical preservatives, and large amounts of salt.
Popular because they are seen as affordable, easy to prepare and resist spoiling, these foods are also intensively marketed and prominently displayed in supermarkets.
The research was conducted in France where the EU does not allow genetically modified organisms and many of the pesticides found in most nonorganic American processed foods.
Researchers obtained mealtime data from 44,551 adults. Almost three-quarters of the study group were women having a mean age at the study’s start of 56.7 years.
According to the French study, for every 10% increase in highly processed foods in the diet, the risk of dying from any cause increased by 14%.* Participants were already in the French NutriNet-Santé Study, an ongoing, nationwide, web-based nutritional study that began in May 2009. The researchers conducted follow-up through December 15, 2017. Food intake information was recorded using 24-hour dietary recalls.
Processed Food Makes Up 30% of French Diet vs. 60% of American Diet
The diet questionnaires asked for information on what foods were typically eaten at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and also what snacks were eaten. There were validated photos so participants could accurately report portion size. Based on the responses, highly processed foods accounted for about 30% of French respondents total daily intake.
This is in stark contrast to the standard American diet. A 2016 study found highly processed food accounting for almost 60% of calories (57.9%), and almost 90% of calories (89.7%) from added sugars. The extra sugar in ultra-processed foods is eight times higher than in minimally processed food and processed ingredients used to make food (2.4 and 3.7% respectively) added together.
The data analysis adjusted for potential things that could have skewed results. These confounders included age, gender, income, educational level, marital status, urban or rural residence, physical activity level, smoking status, alcohol intake, calorie intake, first-degree family history of cancer/cardiovascular disease, number of 24-hour dietary records completed, the season in which dietary recalls were done, and the overall nutritional quality of the diet.
Food Coloring, Preservatives Plus Added Salt and Sugar Raise Chronic Disease Risk
Researchers stated that food additives (like coloring and preservatives), in addition to the high salt, high sugar, and low fiber content of highly processed foods, contribute to an increased risk for chronic diseases that ultimately leads to the increased mortality risk found in this study.
Adjusting for an overall healthy diet (as estimated by following French national recommendations) made the association between ultra-processed foods and death weaker but did not remove it. This suggests that a healthy diet plays a part in reducing the observed 14% greater risk of death.
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* Hazard ratio per 10% increment, 1.14; 95% confidence interval, 1.04 – 1.27;P = .008