The 2 worst ultraprocessed foods you should ditch now

How long have the experts been warning us off of ultraprocessed foods?

Yet, it seems that almost every other week we’re hearing more about how bad these foods are for our health — and how they can shorten our lifespans.

I get it. I’m sure you get it, too. Ultraprocessed foods are, as they say, “of the devil.” Eating these foods has been associated with an early risk of death. Period.

But avoiding these foods is no easy task. They fill the grocery store shelves and, let’s face it, make life easier when putting food on the table.

Finally, some researchers have taken a different approach…

They’ve taken a 30-year look at ultra-processed foods and their health impacts — and have identified those that can do us the most harm.

At least this gives us a starting point to begin removing the most dangerous foods from our diets…

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The two worst offenders

An international team of researchers analyzed data from more than 100,000 health professionals in the United States with no history of cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes. The participants provided information on their health and lifestyle habits every two years for 32 years, and every four years they completed a detailed food questionnaire.

The group eating the least ultraprocessed food consumed an average of three servings a day, while the group eating the most averaged seven servings a day.

According to the results, those who ate the most ultraprocessed food had a 4 percent higher risk of death from any cause, including a 9 percent higher risk of neurodegenerative death.

But here’s where the really helpful information comes in…

Different ultraprocessed foods demonstrated different impacts. The researchers note that processed meat and sweetened beverages, whether sugar is used or artificial sweeteners, showed a higher correlation with these negative outcomes than other ultraprocessed food categories.

Lead study author Dr. Mingyang Song, associate professor of clinical epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, says he wouldn’t necessarily advise a full-scale rejection of all ultraprocessed foods.

“Cereals, whole grain breads, for example, they are also considered ultraprocessed food, but they contain various beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals,” he said in an interview with CNN.

“On the other hand, I do think people should try to avoid or limit the consumption of certain ultraprocessed foods, such as processed meat, sugar-sweetened beverages and also potentially artificially sweetened beverages.”

He adds that researchers also found the most important factor to reducing risk of death is overall diet quality.

“If people maintain a generally healthy diet, I don’t think they need to be scared or freaked out. The overall dietary pattern is still the predominant factor determining the health outcomes.”

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Making smart food choices less challenging

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations defines ultraprocessed foods at those containing ingredients “never or rarely used in kitchens or classes of additives whose function is to make the final product palatable or more appealing.”

A big clue to identifying those ingredients is that most of them are almost unpronounceable. That makes them easy to find if you’re a food label reader.

But thanks to this recent research, getting started on the worst offenders — processed meat and sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened beverages — may be much less challenging…

Ultraprocessed meats are not typically found in the butcher section of the grocery store. They look very different from their original meat source and include lunch meat, hotdogs, bacon, sausage, jerky, canned meat and any other meat that has been processed to change its shape, flavor and freshness.

Cutting out sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened beverages may be hard on your habit if you are used to consuming them, but otherwise easy to avoid. Skipping soda, energy drinks, sweet tea and fruit juice is as simple as no longer buying them at a store.

If you make your own tea at home, for example, at least you can have much more control over the amount of real sugar you might add, versus the massive amount a store-bought brand will contain. Same for fruit juice that can be made at home with the help of a juicer or blender and is naturally sweet.

Be especially wary of artificial sweeteners which are coming under fire for links to cancer, and even low-calorie sweeteners made from naturally-occurring sugar alcohols have the potential to cause blood clots.

Be sure to take what Dr. Song says about a healthy diet to heart. By far one diet continually comes out on top for promoting health — and being easy to follow and stick to. That would be the Mediterranean diet.

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Here are the ultraprocessed foods you most need to avoid, according to a 30-year study — CNN

Association of ultra-processed food consumption with all cause and cause specific mortality: population based cohort study — The BMJ

Ultra-processed foods, diet quality, and health using the NOVA classification system — Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Carolyn Gretton

By Carolyn Gretton

Carolyn Gretton is a freelance writer based in New Haven, CT who specializes in all aspects of health and wellness and is passionate about discovering the latest health breakthroughs and sharing them with others. She has worked with a wide range of companies in the alternative health space and has written for online and print publications like Dow Jones Newswires and the Philadelphia Inquirer.