Diet has a significant impact on our health, with foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables being said to have particularly beneficial effects. However, some foods can also significantly increase the risk of serious illnesses.
In a recent study, an international research team examined the connection between the consumption of highly processed foods and the so-called multimorbidity caused by cancer, cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes. The results are published in the specialist magazine “The Lancet Regional Health – Europe”.
Food as a health risk?
Various previous research studies have already shown that highly processed foods promote illness and, for example, put a strain on heart health. Highly processed foods are also associated with an increased risk of dementia.
Further studies link highly processed foods with the occurrence of individual diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or cancer, but the simultaneous occurrence of these diseases (multimorbidity) has hardly been investigated to date, the researchers explain.
Relationship with multimorbidity examined
Using data from 266,666 participants (60 percent women) from the so-called EPIC study, the team, with the participation of experts from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), the University of Potsdam and the German Institute for Nutritional Research (DifE), analyzed possible connections between multimorbidity due to cancer , diabetes and cardiovascular disease with the consumption of highly processed foods.
The participants came from seven European countries and did not suffer from cancer, cardiovascular disease or type 2 diabetes before the start of the study. Questionnaires were used to determine which foods and drinks they consumed and the proportion of highly processed foods was then assessed using the so-called “NOVA classification system”.
The researchers also recorded sociodemographic and lifestyle factors such as level of education, physical activity and tobacco consumption, and the body mass index (BMI) was calculated based on the measured height and weight.
Increased risk of multimorbidity
After an average follow-up period of 11.2 years, 4,461 participants (39 percent women) developed multimorbidity of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, the team reports.
The subsequent evaluation showed that a higher consumption of highly processed foods (per 1 standard deviation step, about 260 g/day without alcoholic beverages) was associated with an increased risk of multimorbidity of cancer and cardiometabolic diseases.
The connections are clearest with heavily processed animal products and drinks that are artificially and sugar-sweetened. According to the experts, other subgroups such as highly processed bread and grains or plant-based alternatives were not associated with an increased risk. (fp)