Unhealthy processed food

A new poll shows college basketball fans like to add spicy condiments to pizza, deli meat, cookies and ice cream. (© beats_ - stock.adobe.com)

BOSTON — Junk food is unquestionably an unhealthy choice when it comes to nutritious eating. However, a new study reveals just how dangerous eating “ultra-processed” foods is — finding an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and premature death.

Tufts University and Italian researchers compared the consumption of ultra-processed foods among 46,341 men and 159,907 women to cancer data collected from several studies. The findings, published in The BMJ, found definitive links between a high consumption of ultra-processed foods and increased risks for cardiovascular disease, colorectal cancer, and even early death.

Some of the most common “ultra-processed” foods include sugary beverages, potato chips, candy bars, fast food, and even breakfast cereals.

Men in the top 20 percent in terms of ultra-processed food consumption displayed a 29-percent increased likelihood of developing colorectal cancer. That number remained high even after factoring in body mass index (BMI) and lifestyle factors such as smoking.

Junk food could raise heart disease risk by a third

A second study analyzed in the recent BMJ findings showed that people who consumed the most ultra-processed foods and beverages had a 19-percent higher risk of death from any illness. They were 32 percent more likely to die as a result of cardiovascular disease.

A group of Brazilian researchers back in 2009 described ultra-processed foods as “industrial formulations with five or more ingredients.” Such foods also include energy drinks, fried chicken, and white bread.

Cardiovascular mortality rates were nearly one-fifth higher for people with extremely high intakes of ultra-processed foods across all of the studies. Colorectal cancer and even breast cancer rates were significantly higher among people with higher-than-average consumption of ultra-processed foods.

On the other hand, Harvard Medical School defines unprocessed or minimally processed foods as “whole foods in which the vitamins and nutrients are still intact…may be minimally altered by removal of inedible parts, drying, crushing, roasting, boiling, freezing or pasteurization to make suitable to store and safe to consume.”

This is far from the first study to link processed foods and beverages to increased health risks. A 2018 European dietary analysis of more than 104,000 people found multiple associations between ultra-processed food consumption and overall breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer diagnoses. That study found a connection between a 10-percent increase in ultra-processed foods and a 10-percent uptick in participants’ overall risk for breast cancer.

In an editorial, researchers argue that no one “sensible wants foods that cause illness.” Their solution includes making supplies of fresh foods available, more attractive, and inexpensive. “Enacted, this will promote public health. It will also nourish families, society, economies, and the environment,” the researchers conclude in a media release.

About Benjamin Fearnow

Mr. Fearnow has written for Newsweek, The Atlantic & CBS during his New York City-based journalism career. He discusses tech and social media topics on cable news networks.

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30 Comments

  1. Michael Bol says:

    5 or more ingredients is ultra-processed? Better to say higher fat and sugar foods are bad for you. Most recipes out there for home cooking to fruit salad have more than 5 ingredients.

    1. Ed says:

      “industrial formulations with five or more ingredients.”
      All the words, read and understand all the words.

      1. T Mooney says:

        The new imitation meats made from meal worms or crickets probably will not meet the criteria to be labeled “ultra-processed foods. How convenient.

  2. dave says:

    you are what you eat…

    1. Styptic says:

      No. You transform what you eat. You’ve eaten fruits, correct? Are you a banana?

  3. marissa says:

    the definition included “industrial formation” which would not include a home cooked meal

  4. quizling says:

    What makes industrial formulation different than a home recipe? Are they refined more to be only a single substance rather than a mixture of substances? If the home recipe has the same ingredients on a smaller scale will that be better or the same? Is it just the scale of the operation.. How does that make sense?
    Energy Drinks, white bread and chips can be made in a home kitchen.

  5. mRNA GMO Enemy of The State Deplorable Ultra MAGA says:

    All these teens, 20 and 30 somethings becoming SADD. I thought all this time it was climate change and cold showers. Never thought it could be a cheese chili dog.

  6. Gus says:

    Beer is industrially formed, Is it a junk food?

    1. Kent San says:

      Beer is the worst alcoholic beverage you can drink. Not to mention the alcohol, it contains lots of maltose which instantly increases your blood sugar and that, over time, leads to insulin resistance. If you must drink, drink spirits in moderation.

      1. Shane Brooks says:

        Beer contains zero maltose. Maltose is 100% fermentable
        You don’t know what you’re talking about.

  7. Snuppywon says:

    NOTHING good ever came after Woman entered a man’s world: abandonment of her children/home/husband for her kids to be raised by strangers, fed GARBAGE, and adaptation
    of the 3rd World as ‘normalcy’.

    Yes, you came a ‘Long-way baby!’ to get where you go to today: wine-o-holic’s, drug addicts to anti-psychotic med’s, slaves to debt and gross consumerism. And they wonder why they can’t find a husband…

    Cats, NETFLIX, a box of wine and a ‘career’ will NEVER substitute for a real home and family.
    Modern day ‘feminism’ not only betrayed the modern woman, but destroyed the nuclear family.

    1. Mike says:

      The birth control pill was the beginning of the end of civilization.

    2. ScooterGirl says:

      What time is it in Saudi Arabia?

  8. BAMABADGER says:

    With or without processed food consumption, Joe Biden has cut two years off every American’s life expectancy.

    1. Freonpsandoz says:

      Dr. Oz says that classified documents are an important part of Donald Trump’s healthy diet.

  9. BAMABADGER says:

    Eating processed food or not, Joe Biden has caused the loss of two years of life expectancy for every American.

    1. IDGAF says:

      I BELIEVE IT WAS TRUMP WHO KILLED OVER 1 MILLION AMERICANS WITH HIS LIES AND INCOMPETENCE. INCLUDING OVER 3,300 PUERTO RICAN AMERICANS BEFORE THE PANDEMIC. SO, STFU.

      1. SleepyCatzzz says:

        Most people, politicians and the CDC included didn’t understand much in 2020. Remember the CDC saying not to bother with masks, that we had to save the n95s for medical people? And to just not touch your eyes or your face, Wash your hands, it’s not airborne, and you will be okay? It was Trump’s private public partnership that cut the red tape and allowed lightning fast vaccine research and the use of Walgreens and CVS etc parking lots around the country for testing. No new vaccine has ever been created in a year and that was because of this partnership. As obnoxious as I find the man, Trump did some good things. Move on and stop campaigning.

    2. Richard P Wirth says:

      I suggest a university course or two in basic logic. The article is about the scientifically verifiable link between food consumption and mortality/illness. Biden and some wierd political link is not what this article is about. Are you are claiming that thinking about Biden drove you to eat lots of sausages?

    3. John says:

      You are an idiot

  10. Angry Bitter Democrat says:

    not smoking, limiting alcohol, regular exercise and maintaining a reasonable body weight are WAY more important than making sure your meal has less than 5 steps put into it.

  11. Zork says:

    Recent studies have found that breathing causes death in 100% of cases. Don’t waste your time telling people what not to eat.

  12. maryhelen says:

    as a student of health and epidemiology– i do ot believe this or any media report on health and illness– i need to see the original stud. for e.g. how did they get a sample of deaths of people who ate so much “ultra-processed food????

  13. Jim Floyd says:

    All nonsense. Plenty of people live ripe and old after haven spent decades eating such items.

    Studies are like A holes. Everyone has one.

    1. HP Benson says:

      These people are exceptions. No two people are alike physiologically. Some have stronger immune systems. Some have stronger inherited genetics. The article makes completely valid ‘in general’ conclusions. There will always be outlying cases. Medicine is not mathematics. Witness the huge rise in colon cancer among younger and younger people. It’s due to the food and beverages the food-agri-industrial complex is spitting out at us, which essentially is full of processed foods with POISONS in them. The FDA is allowing these items to be manufactured and given to us. At our peril. Go ahead, Jim, eat your junk food. I did so and got colon cancer eventually.

      How well your immune systems fights these poisons is something not really in your control, Jim. Unless you avoid the poisons.

  14. Dark Bamabadger says:

    And by Joe Biden they mean Donald Trump whose lack of leadership and irresponsibility threw the country into a pandemic that could have been prevented. Politicizing precautions and proper hygiene, encouraging his supporters to dismiss science in exchange for immature sarcasm and cynicism. Encouraging violence and intolerance, increasing nationwide stress and uncertainty. All much worse than eating junk food. Now the current leadership has to waste time cleaning up trash from the previous wannabe. A disgrace to America, Christianity, humanity and the world. Oh what it would be like if presidents were really elected by the popular vote and not elections rigged Republicans.

  15. HP Benson says:

    The article leaves out the role of the FDA. The FDA has been allowing all kinds of man-made additives, like artificial colors, emulsifiers, preservatives, substitutes for sugar, etc. that have NOT been properly vetted through human experience over the years. Even an ingredient listed a ‘natural flavors’ is NOT natural: It’s very often a human-made chemical.

    Add to that the roles of the people involved in the entire food chain: The farmers with their sprays, fertilizers, etc. The food processors with their reams of ‘methods’ of heating, aging, salting, etc. food items. Then there’s the canning process of most foods, which adds huge amounts of salt to the food.

    What you conclude is that almost every ‘grocery’ store is selling us POISON.

    A few years ago medical doctors, ‘geniuses’ that they are, could not explain the rise in colon cancer among younger people. DUH: It’s the poisonous food and beverages spitting out to us by big agriculture and food companies, you fools!!!!!!!!!!!!

  16. SleepyCatzzz says:

    The science here is completely lacking. They are confusing correlation with causation, big time. I have a science background, and this is just rubbish, clickbait, and nonsensical. Isn’t the number of ingredients, it’s what those ingredients are, like phosphates, preservatives, trans fats, saturated fats, etc, plus smoking, excessive drinking, lack of exercise… All are far more unhealthy than a food with six ingredients.

  17. Marksblaze says:

    Are western drugs not the ultimate ultra-processed food?