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Monday, July 24, 2023

These Foods May Kill You

The evidence is in. Those highly processed foods we all love – think potato chips, hot dogs, soda, and many more – are killing us.

Recent research suggests a link between how much highly processed foods and red meat someone eats, and life expectancy. A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that an estimated 57,000 Brazilians aged 30 to 69 who died in 2019 were due to their high consumption of processed food. That number equates to over a tenth of the total premature deaths in that age category.

Although a correlating study has not been performed in America, deaths here may be even higher. While a quarter of Brazil’s adults receive up to half of their daily calories from ultra-processed food, Americans get 57% of their calories that way on average

Which Foods Are Highly Processed?  

Often you can spot a highly processed food by reading the label. Be wary if you can’t recognize some of the ingredients, if the sugar and/or salt content is high, or if the food is made to be very convenient to eat. They are made to be highly appealing to our taste buds and lifestyle. Here’s a quick list of some common offenders:
  • Sugary beverages such as sweetened coffee and tea, energy drinks and soft drinks
  • Deli meats, hot dogs and sausages
  • Frozen pizza and frozen meals
  • Packaged snacks such as chips, cookies, crackers and baked goods
  • Most breakfast cereals
  • Canned or instant soups
  • Boxed instant pasta products
  • Sweetened yogurt
  • Bouillon cubes or paste

A plethora of studies have linked cognitive decline, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes to ultra-processed food. The UK study noted that there was a 2% increased risk of all cancers and a 19% increased chance of ovarian cancer for every 10% increase in highly processed foods making up a person’s diet. 

A Meaty Dilemma

One area of concern is processed meat, such as bacon, sausage, salami, and ham.

A recent British study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating about 3 ounces of processed meat daily corresponded to a 44% increased chance of developing dementia. Although the participants who got dementia were also more likely to smoke and generally less educated, less active and poorer than their counterparts, the findings upheld previous research. 

“Further confirmation is needed, but the direction of effect is linked to current healthy eating guidelines suggesting lower intakes of unprocessed red meat could be beneficial for health,” says lead researcher Huifeng Zhang.  “Our research adds to the growing body of evidence linking processed meat consumption to increased risk of a range of non-transmissible diseases.”

Go Mediterranean

So what foods should we eat instead? Sticking to the outer edges of your grocery store will give you an idea: fresh produce, fish, chicken, and unsweetened dairy products are a good place to start.

Scientists recommend staying closer to a Mediterranean diet. “A diet high in a diversity of fruits and vegetables, fish, legumes, whole grains and healthier fats such as nuts and olive oil, and low in processed and refined foods, added sugars, and red and processed meats,” is a much better option, says Doratha A. Byrd, a scientist researching the link between diet and cancer risk. She notes that ultra-processed food and red meat can affect the intestinal barrier, leading to inflammation and a greater chance of cancer developing.

Nearly half of all cancer deaths could be prevented. Diet is something each of us largely controls. Select healthy options at the grocery store to have a better chance of a long life.