Ultra-processed foods, which account for more than half of an average American's daily calories, are linked to lower measures of cardiovascular health, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2019 in Philadelphia.
Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that for every 5% increase in calories from ultra-processed foods a person ate, there was a corresponding decrease in overall cardiovascular health. Adults who ate approximately 70% of their calories from ultra-processed foods were half as likely to have "ideal" cardiovascular health, compared with people who ate 40% or less of their calories from ultra-processed foods.
What are ultra-processed foods?
Foods were categorized into groups by the extent and purpose of industrial processing they undergo. Ultra-processed foods are made entirely or mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, hydrogenated fats, added sugars, modified starch and other compounds and include cosmetic additives such as artificial flavors, colors or emulsifiers.
Examples include soft drinks, packaged salty snacks, cookies, cakes, processed meats, frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, powdered and packaged instant soups, many commercial sliced breads and many items often marketed as "convenience foods."
Related: More evidence ultra-processed foods harm health
A healthy diet plays an important role in maintaining a healthy heart and blood vessels. Eating ultra-processed foods often displaces foods that are rich in fibre, nutrients, antioxidants and inflammatory phytochemicals such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, foods that are strongly linked to heart health. Ultra-processed foods are often high in salt, added sugars and unhealthy fats associated with increasing the risk of heart disease.
About the study
Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected between 2011 and 2016, researchers at the CDC reviewed the results from 13,446 adults, 20 years of age and older, who completed a 24-hour dietary recall and answered questions about their cardiovascular health.
Cardiovascular health is defined by the American Heart Association's Life's Simple 7 as measures of healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels, avoidance of tobacco products, good nutrition, healthy body weight and adequate physical activity.
Source: American Heart Association, November 2019.
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