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Over-processed foods such as cookies, cakes, sweets are as harmful as smoking

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A diet high in highly processed foods can be harmful to every part of the body, according to a major study.

Eating too many foods , such as ready meals, sugary cereals and mass-produced bread, is linked to an increased risk of 32 health problems, including cancer, type 2 diabetes and mental health disorders.

Often high in fat, salt and sugar and low in vitamins and fibre, researchers found compelling evidence that higher consumption was associated with a 50% greater risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke.

In the largest data analysis to date involving 10 million people, researchers found that those who ate the most had a 40 to 66 percent increased risk of dying from heart disease.

They were also significantly more likely to be diagnosed with obesity, lung disease and sleep problems.

Comparing processed foods to smoking, the researchers sounded the alarm and emphasized that government interventions are necessary. They even suggest that foods be labeled as “ultra-processed”.

Ultra-processed foods are those that we usually buy ready-made and are pre-cooked. They usually contain chemicals and coloring substances, sweeteners and preservatives that extend the shelf life.

“Advertising restrictions should be put in place and sales 'in or near schools and hospitals' banned”, experts say.


Governments should adopt national dietary guidelines recommending a variety of minimally processed foods while taking steps to make freshly cooked meals cheaper and more accessible to everyone.

The UK is the worst in Europe for consumption of highly processed food, estimated to make up 57% of the national diet. They are thought to be a key factor in obesity, which costs the NHS around £6.5 billion a year.

They often contain colors, emulsifiers, flavors and other additives, and usually undergo multiple industrial processes, which, according to research, degrade the natural structure of foods, making them absorb quickly. This in turn raises blood sugar, reduces satiety and harms the microbiome – the friendly bacteria that live inside us and on which our good health depends.

Food additives, such as non-nutritive sweeteners, modified starches, gums and emulsifiers, also appear to affect the microbiome, levels of gut inflammation and metabolic responses to food, which may also increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. An umbrella review conducted by academics in Australia analyzed 14 articles published in the past three years that linked consumption to adverse health effects.

There was strong evidence that higher intake was associated with a 50% greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease, a 12% greater risk of type 2 diabetes, and a 48-53% greater risk of anxiety.

There was 'very convincing' evidence that eating more ultra-processed food can increase the chances of dying from any cause by a fifth.

Researchers from Deakin University of Australia also found a 22% greater risk of depression and a 21% greater risk of dying from any cause.

Evidence between UPF intake and asthma, gastrointestinal health, certain cancers and intermediate cardiometabolic risk factors remains limited, they said.

In an accompanying editorial, academics from São Paulo, Brazil, said: “Overall, the authors found that diets high in ultra-processed foods can be harmful to most—perhaps all—body systems.”

They wrote: “There is no reason to believe that people can fully adapt to these products. The body can react to them as useless or harmful, so its systems can be weakened or destroyed, depending on their vulnerability and the amount of hyper-processed food consumed.”

“It is time for governments to develop and implement a convention on highly processed foods, similar to smoking.”

“Many studies have also shown that people who consume a lot of ultra-processed food also have an unhealthy lifestyle and, therefore, a higher risk of developing diseases. Although many studies attempt to adjust for this fact, it is practically impossible to do so completely. Pre-packaged food must display various information to help consumers before they buy it.

Source: reporter.com.cy

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