According to one study, eating many highly processed foods is linked to an earlier risk of death.
A team in France worked with more than 44,000 people in a study conducted since 2009 called NutriNet-Santé. They observed what part of their diet, and their calories, consisted of "ultraprocessed" foods, which were made in factories with ingredients and industrial additives, such as dry prepared foods, cakes and cookies.
During seven years of follow-up, there were 602 deaths, of which 219 were due to cancer and 34 due to cardiovascular disease. The research, published in the journal Jama Internal Medicine, found that deaths were more likely to occur in those who ate more ultra-processed foods.
The link was clear even after taking into account the greater likelihood of deprivation, smoking, obesity and lower educational level among those who ate ultra-processed foods, according to the researchers.
Ultra-processed foods tend to be high in sugar, salt and saturated fats. France consumes less of such packaged foods and prepared foods than many other countries, around 14% of the diet. More than half of the UK diet is ultra-processed foods, The Guardian revealed last year.
Other scientists were not sure if the study showed a relationship between ultra-processed foods and premature death, but they agreed that it was more evidence that a junk food diet was bad for health.
"The case against highly processed foods is accumulating, and this study adds to a growing body of evidence on health damage to ultra-processed foods," said Professor Nita Forouhi of the MRC Epidemiology Unit. at the University of Cambridge. She said more evidence was needed, "however, we would ignore these findings at public health risk."
"A vital message to bear is that the consumption of highly processed foods reflects social inequalities: they are disproportionately consumed by people with lower income or education levels, or those who live alone," said Forouhi.
"Such foods are attractive because they tend to be cheaper, they are very tasty due to the high content of sugar, salt and saturated fats, they are widely available, they are commercialized, they are ready to eat and their dates of use are long, so they last plus". . More needs to be done to address these inequalities. "
Other scientists said it was difficult to draw firm conclusions from the study, partly because the category of "ultra-processed" foods was very large, from soups in packages to chocolate bars.
"This is a large and carefully conducted prospective study of healthy middle-aged and older French people, in which a statistically significant association has been identified between death from any cause and relatively high consumption of" ultra-processed foods, "he said. Dr. Ian Johnson, nutrition researcher and member emeritus of the Quadram Institute Bioscience.
"To put things in perspective, although the risk of dying during the seven years of research was approximately 15% higher among those who consume more of these foods, the background risk in the entire group was low."