From fizzy drinks to ready meals… how just 4 portions of processed food a day could kill you

EATING ready meals washed down with fizzy drinks increases your risk of dying young, experts have warned.

People who ate more than four servings of highly-processed foods a day were two-thirds more likely to die than those eating fewer than two.

Four portions of highly-processed foods a day increases a person’s risk of dying young by 66%, experts have warned

And each additional item was linked to an 18 per cent higher risk.

High intake was also linked to heart disease and stroke.

Danger foods

Danger foods include packaged baked goods and snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals and ready meals containing additives.

Dehydrated vegetable soups and reconstituted fish and meat products, such as chicken nuggets, are also highly-processed.

These often contain high levels of added sugar, fat or salt but few vitamins and little fibre.

Processed food ‘increases risk of killer disease’

Boffins from the University of Navarra, in Spain, monitored 19,899 people aged 20 to 91 for up to 14 years, during which 335 died.

A different study by the University of Paris 13, in France, analysed data on 105,159 people aged 18-plus for an average of five years.

They found eating 10 per cent more highly-processed food was associated with a 12 per higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

It also raised the risk of coronary heart disease by 13 per cent and cerebrovascular disease, such as stroke, by 11 per cent.

Previous studies linked highly-processed foods with cancer, obesity, high blood pressure and irritable bowel syndrome.

WHAT FOODS COUNT AS PROCESSED?

PROCESSED foods aren’t just microwave meals – it’s any food that’s been altered in some way during preparation.

The NHS says processing can include:

  • freezing
  • canning
  • baking
  • drying

Not all processed foods are unhealthy, it’s the ones high is sugar, fat and salt you need to watch out for.

Often people are unaware of the extra calories packed into processed foods, which can fuel weight gain and obesity.

Common examples of processed foods include:

  • breakfast cereals
  • cheese
  • bread
  • savoury snacks like crisps
  • pastries – sausage rolls, pies and pasties
  • meat – bacon, sausage, ham, salami and pate
  • convenience foods like microwave or ready meals
  • cakes and biscuits
  • soft drinks

Researchers say ministers should consider placing higher taxes on these risky foods and ban firms from advertising them.

They also urge people to replace these foods with fresh fruit and vegetables.

Dr Bernard Srour, from the University of Paris 13, said: “The proportion of ultra-processed food in the diet should be limited and the consumption of unprocessed or minimally processed foods should be promoted instead.”

The findings are published in the British Medical Journal.

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