August 01, 2019

Highly processed foods may shorten life span

When it comes to a healthy diet, convenience may have a cost. A new study measures the possibly detrimental relationship between consuming highly processed foods and longevity.

The study, published in the April 1, 2019, issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, looked at the data of 44,000 participants who provided at least 72 hours of self-reported dietary habits. From these, researchers measured the proportion of ultraprocessed foods consumed. These foods — such as snack cakes, chicken nuggets, cheese puffs and sugary beverages — are manufactured through a number of industrial processes and typically have added colors, sugars, salts and preservatives that add no nutritional value.

The researchers found that every 10% increase in consumption of ultraprocessed foods was associated with an increase in deaths from all causes after an average of about seven years of follow-up. This increase was still significant when adjusted for factors such as body mass index (BMI), physical activity level, and family history of cancer or cardiovascular disease.

A major limitation of the study was that it relied on self-reported data, which often isn't an accurate indicator of food intake, weight and other factors. It also can't be distinguished whether the increased death rate was caused by processed food intake or if it was because of reduced intake of fresh, whole foods, or some other unmeasured variable. Still, Mayo Clinic experts emphasize that fresh, whole foods and minimally processed foods are ideal choices for a healthy diet. They're abundant in essential nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber, and they...