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The 3 "Ultraprocessed" Foods You Must Avoid for a Longer Life, 30-Year Study Finds

Certain types of food were found to have a higher association with all cause mortality.

There are some basic truths when it comes to healthy eating. Eating the right foods can help you feel better and lose weight, while eating the wrong ones can do the opposite. But it's not just about the instant effects of our diets: Consuming certain things can have a real impact on your lifespan, research shows. Now, a newly published study with 30 years of data has identified the "ultraprocessed" foods you need to avoid for a longer life.

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The study, which was published May 8 in The BMJ, analyzed data from over 100,000 U.S. health professionals, who had "no history of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, or diabetes" at the start of the research. From the mid-1980s to 2018, participants completed a mailed questionnaire about their medical and lifestyle habits every two years. They also completed a detailed food questionnaire every four years.

According to the study, those who were found to eat the highest amount of ultraprocessed food (at about seven servings per day) had a 4 percent higher risk of deaths by any cause.

"Higher ultra-processed food intake was associated with slightly increased all cause mortality," the researchers concluded. "The findings provide support for limiting consumption of certain types of ultra-processed food for long term health."

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But what are ultraprocessed foods? As the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN) explains, these are foods containing ingredients that are "never or rarely used in kitchens, or classes of additives whose function is to make the final product palatable or more appealing."

This includes ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, flavor enhancers, artificial sweeteners, and thickeners.

But the link to higher all cause mortality rates varied among different types of ultraprocessed foods. Lead study author Mingyang Song, MD, associate professor of clinical epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard's TH Chan School of Public Health, told CNN that researchers found there were three types of ultraprocessed foods that could most inhibit your ability to live a longer life.

"The positive association is mainly driven by a few subgroups including processed meat and sugar sweetened or artificially sweetened beverages," he said.

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Processed meat, for instance, "showed the strongest association with higher all cause mortality and mortality due to individual causes other than cardiovascular diseases and neurodegenerative diseases," according to the study.

That's why Song doesn't recommend people reject all ultraprocessed foods, like cereals or whole grain breads, which are considered ultraprocessed food but "contain various beneficial nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals," he explained.

"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," Song noted.

The researcher added that a person's overall diet is likely most important for a long life.

"If people maintain a generally healthy diet, I don't think they need to be like scared or be freaked out. The overall dietary pattern is still the predominant factor determining the health outcomes," Song told CNN. "If you are worried about food additives, then choose foods that have low levels of additives. Just be mindful of the nutritional content of [the ultraprocessed foods] that you do choose to consume."

Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Kali Coleman
Kali Coleman is a Senior Editor at Best Life. Her primary focus is covering news, where she often keeps readers informed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and up-to-date on the latest retail closures. Read more
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