Are all ultra-processed foods bad for your health?

Are all ultra-processed foods bad for your health?

Obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, depression: ultra-processed foods are singled out for their harmful effects on health. A new European study today confirms a higher risk of cancers and cardiometabolic diseases, but which does not involve all of these foods. Bread and cereals would not be affected.

A recent Inserm study showed that the consumption of ultra-processed foods could be associated with “the recurrence of depressive symptoms”. Results confirmed by work carried out by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School showing an increased risk of depression in women, and which are added to other research implicating this type of food in the risk of cancers and cardiometabolic diseases (cardiovascular diseases, diabetes). These industrial foods ready to be consumed, and therefore considered practical, containing added ingredients or additives are today the subject of a new large-scale study carried out in Europe by researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC ), specialized agency of the World Health Organization (WHO), in collaboration with the University of Vienna.

To carry out their work, the scientists based themselves on data from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) including no less than 266,666 participants, including 60% women, free of cancer, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes at the time of recruitment, in seven European countries. The authors of this work evaluated the participants’ consumption of food and drinks over the last twelve months via a questionnaire, classified according to their degree of processing, then analyzed the risk of multimorbidity of cancers and cardiometabolic diseases.

Confirmed risks of cancer and cardiometabolic diseases

Published in The Lancet Regional Health – Europe, the study initially indicates that 4,461 people, including 39% women, developed multimorbidity involving cancer and cardiometabolic diseases after a median follow-up of 11.2 years. “Greater consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with increased risk of cancers and cardiometabolic diseases“, we can also read in the study. It is specified that the risk is even higher with products of animal origin and artificially sweetened or sweetened drinks, such as soft drinks. Surprisingly, substitutes Plant-based foods and ultra-processed breads and cereals are not associated with this increased risk, according to the researchers.

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Not all processed foods are affected by this risk

Our study highlights that you don’t need to completely avoid ultra-processed foods. Instead, it is advisable to limit consumption and favor fresh or minimally processed foods.“, explained Heinz Freisling, co-author of this work and expert at IARC, to the Guardian. The British daily also interviewed Dr Ian Johnson, nutrition researcher, who added: “These observations suggest a role for certain ultra-processed foods in the onset of multiple chronic diseases. But they also show that the common assumption that all ultra-processed foods are linked to adverse health events is likely wrong.“.

For their part, the IARC experts conclude: “The results of this study can serve as a basis for preventive strategies aimed at reducing the risk of multimorbidity related to cancer and cardiometabolic diseases through dietary recommendations, health policies and other interventions“. Adding that multimorbidity, which results in the simultaneous manifestation of several chronic diseases in an individual, is on the rise in several regions of the world.