This trend can lead to an increase in premature deaths due to chronic diseases, such as cancer and cardiovascular diseases, they say.
To understand the relationship between ultra-processed foods and the risk of death earlier than expected, the researchers sought the help of 44,551 French adults aged 45 and over for two years. Their average age was 57 years, and almost 73% of the participants were women. All provided 24-hour dietary records every six months, in addition to completing questionnaires about their health (including body mass index and other measurements), physical activities and sociodemographic data.
The researchers calculated the overall dietary intake of each participant and the consumption of ultra-processed foods.
They found that ultra-processed foods accounted for more than 14% of the total weight of food consumed and about 29% of total calories. The consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a younger age, lower income, lower educational level, life alone, higher BMI and lower level of physical activity.
During the study period, 602 participants died. After adjusting factors such as smoking, the researchers calculated an associated 14% higher risk of early death for each 10% increase in the proportion Of ultra-processed food consumed.
More studies are needed to confirm these results, the authors say. However, they speculate that additives, packaging (chemical products are introduced into food during storage) and processing itself, including high-temperature processing, may be the factors that adversely affect health.
Read the pack from front to back
The "findings make sense, given what we know to date about the harmful effects of food additives on brain function and health, but the effects observed are very small," wrote Molly Bray, president of the Department of Nutrition Sciences. from the University of Texas. in Austin, in an email. She was not involved in the investigation.
Nurgul Fitzgerald, associate professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at Rutgers, State University of New Jersey, offered "congratulations to the authors" for a study that is "solid" in terms of design.
However, "ultraprocess" is a huge category of foods, and putting so many together, the researchers lost sensitivity in their results and can not identify exactly what is causing the effect observed in the study, said Fitzgerald, who was not involved in the research. . investigation.
"Some factors may be more harmful or less harmful than others, it's really too complex," he said, adding that we can not "run with" these results.
Why do people eat more of these processed foods?
"We are living in a fast world and people are looking for convenient solutions, we are always stretched out over time," Fitzgerald said. "People are looking for quick solutions, fast food."
When selecting foods, taste is the No. 1 factor for most consumers, he said, but price and convenience are also important, and with ultra-processed foods, that convenience factor is "probably the highest of the list: take and go, ready to eat. "
Fitzgerald recommends that people look not only at the front of a package when they buy prepared foods, but also at the back.
"Look at the list of ingredients – do you understand all the ingredients that go into your food?" she asked. Buy only those products "with the least amount of ingredients and with ingredients that you understand".