Certain ultra-processed foods increase the risk of developing cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, but new research suggests that some of these foods are beneficial for health.
Regular consumption of meat products such as sausages and sugary drinks is associated with a higher likelihood of developing such diseases.
However, despite being classified as ultra-processed foods, bread, and cereals that contain fibre were found to reduce the risk of these diseases, The Guardian reported.
The study also found that sauces, spreads, and condiments have negative health effects, but not to the same extent as animal products and soft drinks. The findings were published in The Lancet.
The latest research challenges the notion that all ultra-processed foods (UPF) are harmful to health.
Sweets, desserts, ready meals, savoury snacks, and plant-based alternatives to meat products were found to be “not associated with the risk of multimorbidity,” according to the authors.
This nuanced approach contradicts the broad categorisation of all UPF as detrimental to health and highlights specific products that may not pose the same risks.
The study, conducted across seven European countries, involved an analysis of the dietary habits and health conditions of 266,666 individuals.
The findings revealed that a higher intake of ultra-processed foods correlated with an increased risk of multimorbidity, including cancer and cardiometabolic diseases.
The researchers suggested that individuals looking to mitigate their risk could consider replacing some UPF in their diet with less processed alternatives or adopt a Mediterranean diet for the prevention of cancer and cardiometabolic multimorbidity.
Multimorbidity refers to the simultaneous presence of at least two life-shortening diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.
The growing apprehension surrounding UPF has been intensified by the revelation that 50%-60% of total energy intake in certain high-income countries is derived from UPF rather than freshly prepared meals.
Heinz Freisling, a co-author of the study and an expert at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), emphasised that the study doesn’t advocate complete avoidance of UPF but suggests limiting their consumption and prioritising fresh or minimally processed foods.
Reynalda Cordova, leading the study at both IARC and the University of Vienna, emphasised the importance of providing consumers with easy access to fresh and less-processed foods.
Dr Ian Johnson, a nutrition researcher, and emeritus fellow at the Quadram Institute, noted that the study provided valuable insights into which types of UPFs were harmful and which were not.
“These observations do suggest a role for some UPF in the onset of multiple chronic disease. But they also show that the common assumption that all UPF foods are linked to adverse health events is probably wrong.”
Dr Duane Mellor, a senior lecturer at Aston University’s medical school, agreed, and said that the concept of UPF is too broad.