Eating at fast food restaurants or grabbing something quick at the drive-thru have become a habit for many families who are so busy juggling work, school, and extra-curricular activities that it's often hard to find time to have a balanced and healthy dinner together at home. While this is often more convenient for everyone despite knowing it's not the healthiest option, it seems that eating too much ultra-processed food can be more detrimental to our health than originally thought. New studies are showing that eating too much ultra-processed food can lead to an early death.
In studies published in the British Medical Journal researchers in both France and Spain found that excessive consumption of foods that have been labelled "ultra-processed" have been linked to not only poor health but early death, the BBC reports. The study defines ultra-processed foods as “formulations of food substances often modified by chemical processes and then assembled into ready-to-consume hyper-palatable food and drink products using flavours, colours, emulsifiers and . . . other cosmetic additives.” Basically, that means many ready-to-eat foods with a long list of ingredients, soft drinks and energy drinks, cereals and cereal bars, many processed meats like sausage or store-bought hamburgers and chicken nuggets.
The BBC suggests anything that has ingredients you can't pronounce, have more than five ingredients listed and is anything your grandmother would not recognize as food is probably ultra-processed.
The study states that in the 10 years since the term "ultra-processed" was coined they have seen an increase in "poor diet quality, increased cardiovascular risk factors (eg, dyslipidaemia, hypertension), and adverse health outcomes such as obesity and metabolic syndrome" as a result of consumption of these products. Both studies showed links between eating a diet that included ultra-processed foods and an increase in cardiovascular disease.
However, there are critics who state that you can't be sure that eating a diet including ultra-processed foods is the cause of these health ailments. Those who eat a diet high in ultra-processed foods tend to also have other unhealthy habits including smoking and excessive drinking.
"These studies do increase my confidence that there's something real behind these associations - but I'm still far from sure," Kevin McConway, a professor of statistics at The Open University told the BBC. Because ultra-processed foods are less nutritious and contain less fibre and protein people tend to overeat as well. In one of the studies the subjects who were given the ultra-processed foods to eat consumed an extra 500 calories a day.
So what's a busy family to do? While we will never be able to not eat some ultra-processed food, limited the amount we consume and how often is a definite step in the right direction. "The dietary advice is relatively straightforward: eat less ultra-processed food and more unprocessed or minimally processed food."