Health Care

Ultra-processed food dangers prompt proposals for taxation and marketing restrictions

Ultra-processed foods are readily available for purchase in many countries where they are estimated to account for between a quarter to 60-percent of an individual's daily food consumption.

Their studies are not definite proof of harm but do come hot on the heels of trials suggesting ultra-processed foods lead to overeating.

This found that those eating four portions a day of highly processed foods had a 62 per cent increased mortality risk, compared with those eating less than two. Participants imn the NutriNet-Santé study were asked to complete six 24-hour dietary questionnaires to measure their usual intake of 3,300 different food items, ranked according to how processed they were.

Conclusions In this large observational prospective study, higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with higher risks of cardiovascular, coronary heart, and cerebrovascular diseases.

Foods were grouped according to degree of processing and rates of disease were measured over a maximum follow-up of 10 years (2009-2018).

Then come "ultra-processed foods", which have been through more substantial industrial processing and often have long ingredient lists on the packet, including added preservatives, sweeteners or colour enhancers.

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In comparison, the first study found that diets high in unprocessed and minimally processed foods and lower risks of disease.

Victoria Taylor, senior dietitian at the British Heart Foundation, said: "The classification of ultra-processed foods used by the researchers is very broad and so there could be a number of reasons why these foods are being linked to increased risk to our health; for example, nutritional content, additives in food or other factors in a person's life".

This view is supported by Australian researchers in a linked editorial, who say the dietary advice is relatively straightforward: eat less ultra-processed food and more unprocessed or minimally processed food.

"Improving diet based on adherence to minimally processed food - a key aspect of the Mediterranean diet - has been shown to protect against chronic disease and all cause mortality", the University of Navarra researchers said.

In a commentary, Deakin University researchers agreed: "Policy makers should shift their priorities away from food reformulation - which risks positioning ultra-processed food as a solution to dietary problems - towards a greater emphasis on promoting the availability, affordability, and accessibility of unprocessed or minimally processed foods".

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