Why Avoid Ultra-Processed Foods?

Frightening Statistics On UK's Diet

Heart risk. Credit: Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

Recent findings presented at the European Society of Cardiology’s annual gathering in Amsterdam have raised alarms about the dangers of ultra-processed foods (UPFs).

With over half of the average UK diet now comprising UPFs, and some individuals consuming as much as 80 per cent, the implications are concerning, according to the Guardian.

The Alarming Findings

One investigation, monitoring 10,000 women over 15 years, discovered that those consuming the most UPFs faced a 39 per cent higher risk of hypertension compared to those consuming the least. Remarkably, these results held true even when factors like salt, sugar, and fat were accounted for.

Hypertension, a precursor to severe heart ailments, can lead to conditions such as heart disease, peripheral arterial disease, and vascular dementia.

The Bigger Picture

Another comprehensive meta-analysis, involving over 325,000 individuals, found that those consuming the highest amounts of UPFs had a 24 per cent greater likelihood of experiencing cardiovascular incidents like heart attacks and strokes. A mere 10 per cent increase in UPF calorie intake correlated with a 6 per cent heightened risk of heart disease.

Research spearheaded by the Fourth Military Medical University in Xi’an, China, indicated that individuals with less than 15 per cent UPF in their diet were the least susceptible to heart complications.

UPFs, often laden with salt and sugar, undergo multiple manufacturing processes. They frequently lack the nutritional benefits found in fresh or minimally processed foods. Previous research has associated high UPF consumption with obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Anushriya Pant from the University of Sydney highlighted the misconception many hold regarding UPFs. She mentioned, ‘It could be that foods you think are healthy are actually contributing to you developing high blood pressure.’

Dr Chris van Tulleken, a renowned UPF expert, emphasised the growing evidence linking UPFs to cardiovascular risks. He stated, ‘There is now significant evidence that these products inflame the gut, disrupt appetite regulation, alter hormone levels and cause myriad other effects which likely increase the risk of cardiovascular and other disease much in the same way that smoking does.’

Van Tulleken advocated for clear warning labels on UPF packaging, similar to those in Chile and Mexico, and stricter marketing regulations, especially towards children.

The UK’s health department has already taken steps to limit unhealthy food promotions. Henry Dimbleby, the UK’s former food advisor, stressed the need for action, warning of impending health crises if the UPF trend continues.

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan from the British Heart Foundation emphasised the need for further research to fully understand the UPF-cardiovascular disease connection.

As UPFs appear to dominate global diets, understanding their impact is crucial for future health strategies.

Examples Of UPFs

According to the British Heart Foundation, here are some examples of UPFs.

  • Ice cream
  • Ham
  • Sausages
  • Crisps
  • Mass-produced bread
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Biscuits
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Fruit-flavoured yogurts
  • Instant soups
  • Some alcoholic drinks including whisky, gin, and rum

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Written by

John Ensor

Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina. He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.