Ultra-processed foods linked to increased risk of second heart attack or stroke

Scientists have shown through a study published in the European Heart Journal that there is an increased risk of second heart attack or stroke for those who consume ultra-processed foods.

Studies have shown us previously on multiple occasions that ultra-processed foods are a major public health concern for their potential adverse effects on health. The new study looks at possible risks for people suffering from cardiovascular diseases. The findings indicate a higher risk of a second heart attack (or stroke), this time fatal. Moreover, another observation emerges from this study: even in people generally following the Mediterranean diet, but consuming too many ultra-processed foods, health risks are higher.

Scientists followed 1,171 people participating in the Moli-sani epidemiological project for over ten years. All of them already had cardiovascular disease at the time of inclusion in the study. Regarding the diet followed by participants, the researchers focused on the consumption of ultra-processed foods, made in part or entirely with substances not routinely used in cooking (hydrolysed proteins, maltodextrins, hydrogenated fats, for example) and which generally contain various additives, such as dyes, preservatives, antioxidants, anticaking agents, flavour enhancers and sweeteners.

This category includes sugary and carbonated drinks, pre-packaged meals, spreads and some apparently “unsuspected” products, such as rusks, breakfast cereals, crackers and fruit yoghurt. These foods were classified using the NOVA system, which rates foods according to the degree of processing rather than on their nutritional value.

Scientists found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods have a two-thirds increased risk of a second heart attack or stroke, this time fatal, compared to participants eating these foods less frequently. The probability of dying from any cause is also 40% higher. It is important to underline that the definition of ultra-processed food is not linked to the nutritional content, but rather to the process used for its preparation and storage.

In other words, even if a food is nutritionally balanced, it might still be considered ultra-processed. Clearly, it is not the single food consumed occasionally that makes the difference, rather a diet that, as a whole, contains too many products coming from supermarket shelves. A diet based on the consumption of fresh, minimally processed products should be always preferred, as the Mediterranean tradition has been teaching us for centuries.

Back to top button