These Ultra-Processed Foods May Shorten Your Life, National Cancer Institute Study Says

Francis Page Jr. | 7/3/2024, 11 a.m.
Eating higher levels of ultra-processed foods may shorten lifespans by more than 10%, according to a new, unpublished study of …

Eating higher levels of ultra-processed foods may shorten lifespans by more than 10%, according to a new, unpublished study of over 500,000 people whom researchers followed for nearly three decades. The risk went up to 15% for men and 14% for women once the data was adjusted, said study lead author Erikka Loftfield, an investigator at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

Asked about their consumption of 124 foods, people in the top 90th percentile of ultra-processed food consumption said overly processed drinks topped their list. “Diet soft drinks were the key contributor to ultra-processed food consumption. The second one was sugary soft drinks,” Loftfield said. “Beverages are a very important component of the diet and contribute significantly to ultra-processed food intake.”

Refined grains such as ultra-processed breads and baked goods ranked next in popularity, the study found. “This is one more large, long-duration cohort study confirming the association between UPF (ultra-processed food) intake and all-cause mortality, particularly from cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes,” said Carlos Monteiro, emeritus professor of nutrition and public health at Brazil’s University of São Paulo, in an email.

Monteiro coined the term ultra-processed food and created the NOVA food classification system, which looks beyond nutrients to how foods are made. Monteiro was not involved in the study, but several members of the NOVA classification system were coauthors.

The NOVA classification system sorts foods from minimally processed—whole foods such as fruits and vegetables—to processed foods such as deli meat and sausage—to ultra-processed. Ultra-processed foods contain ingredients “never or rarely used in kitchens, or classes of additives whose function is to make the final product palatable or more appealing,” according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The list of additives includes preservatives to resist mold and bacteria; emulsifiers to keep incompatible ingredients from separating; artificial colorings and dyes; anti-foaming, bulking, bleaching, gelling, and glazing agents; and added or altered sugar, salt, and fats designed to make food appetizing.

Health Risks Linked to Processed Meats and Soft Drinks

The preliminary study, presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition in Chicago, analyzed dietary data gathered in 1995 from nearly 541,000 Americans ages 50 to 71 who were participating in the US National Institutes of Health-AARP Diet and Health Study. Researchers linked the dietary data to death rates over the next 20 to 30 years. Compared with those in the bottom 10% of ultra-processed food consumption, people who ate the most overly processed food were more likely to die from heart disease or diabetes, according to the study. Unlike other studies, however, researchers found no rise in cancer-related deaths.

Some ultra-processed foods carried more risk than others, Loftfield said: “Highly processed meat and soft drinks were a couple of the subgroups of ultra-processed food most strongly associated with mortality risk.” Diet drinks are considered ultra-processed foods because they contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and stevia, and additional additives not found in whole foods.

For the readers of Houston Style Magazine, it is crucial to be aware of the health risks associated with ultra-processed foods. Prioritizing minimally processed and whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, over highly processed items can significantly impact overall health and longevity. As more research continues to confirm the dangers of ultra-processed foods, making informed dietary choices becomes increasingly important for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

For more info, visit