Eating fast foods and processed foods is linked to poorer heart health and increases in cardiovascular disease, researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have revealed.
On average, Americans get half of their daily calories from highly processed foods, but these foods increase the odds of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
The CDC researchers suggest that a person’s heart health will get worse with every 5 percent increase in calorie intake from ultra-processed foods.
They say if 70 percent of a person’s daily calories intake comes from ultra-processed foods, then that person has half the chance of having “ideal” cardiovascular health than those who get less than 40 percent of their calories from these kind of foods.
Ideal cardiovascular health is defined by the American Heart Association by ‘Life’s Simple 7’, which is built on seven risk factors.
These factors are blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, diet, weight, smoking, and physical activity.
Ultra-processed or highly processed foods are prepared by food companies and tend to have long lists of fillers, artificial flavours, colours, additives, and preservatives and can contain extra oil, sugar, and salt.
These ingredients can increase the shelf-life or make the treated foods more attractive by improving their look, flavour, and taste.
Highly processed foods are mostly made from food extracts such as hydrogenated fats, modified starch, hydrolysed proteins, maltodextrin, and emulsifiers.
Pre-prepared items advertised as “convenience foods” include smoked meat, jerky, bacon, cookies, cakes, snacks, soft drinks, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, packaged breads and buns, crisps, powdered soups, sauces, sausages, slimming products, infant formulas and baby products.
Dr Zefeng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the CDC, said:
“Healthy diets play an important role in maintaining a healthy heart and blood vessels.
Eating ultra-processed foods often displaces healthier foods that are rich in nutrients, like fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, which are strongly linked to good heart health.
In addition, ultra-processed foods are often high in salt, added sugars, saturated fat and other substances associated with increasing the risk of heart disease.”
The CDC researchers for this study used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), carried out on 13,446 adults between 2011 and 2016.
Professor Donna Arnett, former president of the American Heart Association, said:
“This study underscores the importance of building a healthier diet by eliminating foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages, cookies, cakes and other processed foods.
There are things you can do every day to improve your health just a little bit.
For example, instead of grabbing that loaf of white bread, grab a loaf of bread that’s whole grain or wheat bread.
Try replacing a hamburger with fish once or twice a week.
Making small changes can add up to better heart health.”
About the author
Mina Dean is a Nutritionist and Food Scientist. She holds a BSc in Human Nutrition and an MSc in Food Science.
The study was presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2019 in Philadelphia.