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Ultra-processed foods are harming your health, study finds. Here’s how to do it – National |


Ultra-processed foods are shortening lives and worsening people’s health on at least 32 major health metrics, according to a new study.

A review of hundreds of epidemiological studies published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal found that higher exposure to ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of 32 health problems, including cancer, heart disease and lung disease. serious, mental health problems and early death.

These outcomes cover mortality, cancer, and mental, respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and metabolic health outcomes.

The report conducted a “general review (a summary of high-level evidence) of 45 separate pooled meta-analyses from 14 review articles associating ultra-processed foods with adverse health effects.”

These review articles were all published within the last three years and involved nearly 10 million participants.

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“Greater exposure to ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of health problems, particularly cardiometabolic disorders, common mental disorders, and mortality,” the report said.

The report notes that ultra-processed foods, which include packaged baked goods and snacks, soft drinks, sugary cereals, and ready-to-eat or heat-up products, undergo multiple industrial processes. As a result, they contain colorings, emulsifiers, flavors and other additives.

According to the study, ultra-processed foods were associated with a 50 percent increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, a 48 to 53 percent higher risk of common anxiety and mental disorders, and a 12 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes.

Not only are these foods associated with a 40 to 66 percent increased risk of death from heart disease, obesity and sleep problems, as well as a 22 percent increased risk of depression, but they shorten probably life.

According to the study, higher consumption of ultra-processed foods means there is a 21% higher risk of death overall, regardless of cause.

Although the report found “limited evidence” of a link between these foods and breast, pancreatic and prostate cancer, it found “direct associations with colorectal cancer risk.”

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“These findings support urgent mechanistic research and public health actions that seek to target and minimize consumption of ultra-processed foods to improve population health,” the report states.

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The percentage of calories from ultra-processed foods was high in high-income countries.

“In high-income countries, the share of food energy from ultra-processed foods ranges from 42% and 58% in Australia and the United States, respectively, to just 10% and 25% in Italy and Korea of the South,” the report states. the report said.

Where does Canada stand on ultra-processed foods?

Amanda Nash, a dietitian and manager at the Heart and Stroke Foundation, said she was not surprised by the report’s findings.

“Canadians are actually the second largest purchasers of ultra-processed foods and beverages in the world, just behind Americans, and Canadians get about 50 percent of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods,” he said. she told Global News.

Nash said ultra-processed foods could include products such as sugary drinks, packaged snacks, chocolates, candies, industrial bread, cakes, cookies, desserts, packaged soups or noodles and frozen and ready-to-eat meals. She said that these products are not only cheap and affordable for many, but they are also attractive.

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“That’s because they are strongly branded, attractively packaged and heavily marketed,” she said.

Nash said the only way to avoid these adverse health effects is to go back to basics.

“If we look at what Health Canada recommends, we are going to choose half of our plate full of fruits and vegetables. A quarter of your plate would be whole grains, and then a quarter of your plate would be your protein choices.

In October, another report published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) found that addiction to ultra-processed foods affects 14 percent of adults and 12 percent of children worldwide. Meanwhile, tobacco addiction affects 18 percent of adults worldwide, the report said.

Talia Bronstein, vice president of research and advocacy at Daily Bread Food Bank, said, “Low-income communities don’t necessarily have the means or access to purchase the nutritious foods they would prefer. »

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She said the cost of living crisis has made fresh produce prohibitive for many Canadians, increasing pressure on food banks in several major Canadian cities.

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“We now serve one in ten people in Toronto in food banks. We just broke a new record in the last year. It took us 38 years to get to one million visits to Toronto food banks. It took us two years to get 2 million visits and only one year – 2023 – to get just 3 million visits to Toronto food banks.

Nash recognizes that the cost of living crisis poses a major barrier to the transition to healthier foods for people living in low-income communities. But she added that people still have choices, even on a limited budget.

“If income is an issue, look for longer shelf-life foods when they’re on sale, then stock up on items like canned beans, frozen vegetables and whole-grain pasta. These kinds of items will have a longer shelf life,” she said.

Nash’s biggest piece of advice is to ditch sugary drinks altogether.

“Sugary drinks are high in calories, have a lot of extra sugar and added sugar, which means they don’t necessarily contain nutrients or other nutritional benefits,” she said. a health halo around them, things like in sports drinks or those vitamin waters.


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