Diets high in ultra-processed, industrial foods have been linked to shorter lifespans and a heightened risk of heart attacks and stroke, according to two new studies covered by CBS News on Thursday.
Increasingly, research suggests this goes beyond the salt, sugar, and fats that are also common in these foods, pointing instead to the processing and preservatives themselves. This category is not limited to junk food like chips and fast food, but also includes packaged meals and ingredients that rely on industrial additives.
The findings from the studies were published in the journal BMJ on Wednesday.
In one study, a French research team from the University of Paris tracked over 100,000 French adults over a period of roughly five years. They found that those who ate the most processed foods saw a 23 percent higher chance of cardiovascular issues. There was about a 12 percent increase in risk for every 10 percent increase in processed foods consumed.
And the researchers noted that past studies have pointed to additives as the problem, including preservatives, binders, sweeteners and other flavorings not found in unprocessed whole foods.
While they note that their study proved a link rather than a direct causal relationship, they said that in the context of other research, it suggests that consumers should minimize this ultra-processed food in favor of plant-based whole foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and nuts.
The researchers noted that not all packaged foods fall into the “ultra-processed” category. Some canned foods, for example, contain basic ingredients without many preservatives or additives.
A second study of almost 20,000 Spanish adults found that those with the diets highest in ultra-processed food were 62 percent more likely to die in the next two decades than the group that ate the least ultra-processed foods. They also found that the link could not be fully explained by other factors like weight and lifestyle.
Instead, the new studies contribute to a growing body of research that suggests food additives, compounds, and even contaminants that come from the processing itself are likely to blame. Other researchers have suggested that the processed food takes the place of more nutritionally beneficial food, which is then absent from diets.
“I like to say: The longer the shelf life, the shorter your life,” said Dr. Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist who was not involved in the recent research. “It behooves us all to use nature to our advantage — to eat more nutritious foods, and rely less on medication.”