Britain is facing “a tidal wave of damage” from ultra-processed food, which puts millions of people at risk of heart problems, landmark research shows.
People who eat the most mass-produced foods are 24 percent more likely to have heart attacks and strokes, new statistics reveal.
And they’re also 39 percent more likely to develop high blood pressure, a separate study found.
Ultra-processed foods make up 57 per cent of the national diet, making the UK the worst consumer of them in Europe.
Comparing it to tobacco, the campaigners said the research provided some of the strongest evidence yet that eating too many ultra-processed foods – such as sliced bread, breakfast cereals and prepared meals – is deadly.
Britain is facing “a tidal wave of damage” from ultra-processed food, which puts millions of people at risk of heart problems, landmark research shows. Stock Image
People who eat the most mass-produced foods are 24 percent more likely to have heart attacks and strokes, new statistics reveal. Stock Image
Even foods marketed as “healthy” options, like fruit or protein bars and low-fat yogurts, are likely to be bad for your heart health.
Experts called for stricter regulation of manufacturers, including warning labels on packaging and a ban on marketing foods that are “actively killing” people. They said the findings, presented at the world’s largest cardiology conference, should serve as “a wake-up call” that the UK’s food culture must change.
Former government food adviser and co-founder of the León restaurant chain, Henry Dimbleby, said: “Britain is particularly bad for ultra-processed food. It is stockpiling trouble for the future. If we do nothing, a wave of damage will hit the NHS.’
Ultra-processed foods are those that differ significantly from their original state, having gone through multiple processes during their manufacture.
They tend to be high in salt and sugar and may contain additives and preservatives.
Foods are often low in fiber and lacking in the nutrients of fresh produce, such as fresh fruits and vegetables and homemade bread.
Previous studies have linked the consumption of high levels of ultra-processed foods with a variety of health problems including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
But the new research shows that even excluding sugar, salt and fat, these foods are still unhealthy, suggesting that “ultra-processing itself is the main problem.”
Analysis of ten studies involving more than 325,000 people showed that those who ate the most of these items were 24 percent more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.
According to research from the Fourth China Military Medical University, increasing the proportion of ultra-processed foods in a person’s daily calorie intake by 10 percent was associated with a 6 percent increased risk of heart disease.
Meanwhile, a 15-year Australian study found that women who ate the most ultra-processed foods had a significantly higher risk of developing high blood pressure than those who ate the least. Experts warned that the risk for women in the UK could be significantly higher, as the typical British diet contains a third more ultra-processed foods than the highest intake in the Australian study.
Ultra-processed foods are those that differ significantly from their original state, having gone through multiple processes during their manufacture. Stock Image
Speaking to reporters at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Amsterdam, where the research was presented, lead author Anushriya Pant, from the University of Sydney, said: “Compared to minimally processed foods, ultra-processed foods they tend to be low in fiber, high in salt and sugars, and all of these factors are known to be anticardioprotective… The more you process food, the less nutrients you retain.
“For example, many foods in the health aisle of the supermarket that are advertised as ‘healthy’ because they are low in calories, when we look at the sodium (salt) content, it is too high…
‘We know that a high level of salt equates to hypertension. It could be that foods that you think are healthy actually contribute to your development of high blood pressure.
Dr Chris van Tulleken, whose book Ultra-Processed People was recently serialized in the Daily Mail, said those who produce ultra-processed foods should be viewed in the same light as tobacco companies. He called for warning labels on packages to replace “the confusing and optional traffic light system.”
He said: “There is now significant evidence that these products inflame the gut, disrupt appetite regulation, alter hormone levels and cause many other effects that probably increase the risk of cardiovascular and other diseases in the same way that smoking does “.
“We urgently need to advise people to reduce the consumption of ultra-processed foods in our national dietary guideline.”
“Like tobacco, we must consider the money of ultra-processed food companies dirty.”
Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said there is “growing concern” about proven links between ultra-processed foods and cardiovascular disease.
She said: ‘The world around us doesn’t always make it easy to make the healthy option accessible and affordable.
“In contrast, less healthy foods often take center stage.
“To address this, we need a comprehensive strategy that creates an environment that can help people live long and healthy lives.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We have introduced legislation to restrict the placement and promotion of certain products in supermarkets to discourage unhealthy food choices.”