Ultra-processed foods have been under a health microscope for a while—especially after a recent study linked eating them to an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. What’s sneaky is that ultra-processed foods don’t just include unhealthy things like fast food, soda, chips, and hot dogs. Seemingly healthy—or at least harmless—foods like flavored yogurt, energy bars, baby formula, and cereal can also fall under the ultra-processed umbrella.
The best way to tell if something is ultra-processed is by scanning the nutrition label. If you see a long list of ingredients you don’t recognize, chances are it’s processed. And the scary part is that eating these foods—even just a couple times a week—could up your chances of dying prematurely, according to a new study.
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More on processed foods from Cooking Light:
- What Is Ultra-Processed Food?
- The Link Between Ultra-Processed Food and Cancer
- This Common Food Additive Could Be Making Fitness Harder
The study, which was conducted in France and recently published in JAMA, observed 44,551 people who were 45 years or older for about seven years. The study found that participants who reported eating more ready-to-eat or packaged meals with additives tended to have a lower income, less education, likely lived alone, had a higher BMI, and were less physically active.
You probably already know that being overweight and not exercising can lead to chronic disease and an increased mortality risk, but eating ultra-processed foods may up your risk of dying even more. The study reported that 602 participants (or about 1.4 percent of the study) died during the follow-up period, and that eating ultra-processed foods was associated with an overall higher mortality risk among adults.
The bottom line: If you want to live a long and healthy live, stick to a diet rich in unprocessed foods like fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, and lean protein (also sometimes known as clean eating), and save the ultra-processed foods for rare treats (or not at all!)
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