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New Study Finds Ultra-Processed Food Consumption May Shorten Life Spans: See the List of Common Items

Refined grains and soda topped the list of ultra-processed foods contributing to the study's findings

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While it’s no secret that processed foods have negative effects on our health, the reality is that they are much more available and convenient in modern society. However, next time you think about heading into the drive-through for a quick bite or picking up that microwave meal out of the freezer section, consider this: A recent, unpublished, preliminary study presented at the meeting of the American Society for Nutrition revealed that consuming greater amounts of ultra-processed foods can shorten your lifespan by over 10 percent. 

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The study took place over the span of almost three decades and included over 500,000 participants. Getting into specifics, according to an investigator at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, Erikka Loftfield, when data had been adjusted, the risk for men became as high as 15% and 14% for women. 

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What kind of unprocessed foods were most popular amongst the participants?

If things like diet soda or soda in general are your kryptonite, you’re certainly not alone. “Diet soft drinks were the key contributor to ultra-processed food consumption,” said Lottfield, per CNN. “The second one was sugary soft drinks,” she reported. “Beverages are a very important component of the diet and the contribution to ultra-processed food.”

A shopping cart in an aisle of the supermarket
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Next time you take a sip of your diet soda thinking you’re doing your health a favor by avoiding large amounts of sugar, think again — you might be better off opting for another alternative. 

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In their wake came refined grains, which come in the form of breads and baked goods that contain preservatives and additives to expand their shelf life. For example, those cakes and cupcakes that can last a lifetime without molding or going stale, are the things to look out for. 

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What are ultra-processed foods?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, there are a few things to look out for to determine if what you’re eating falls into the “ultra-processed” category. 

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Generally, the practical way to identify if a product is ultra-processed is to check to see if its list of ingredients contains at least one item characteristic of the ultra-processed food group,” they say. “These are either food substances never or rarely used in kitchens, or classes of additives whose function is to make the final product palatable or more appealing.”

junk food in a pattern
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Some of the words you might see amongst the ingredients list of an ultra processed food includes “hydrolysed proteins, soya protein isolate, gluten, casein, whey protein, ‘mechanically separated meat’, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, ‘fruit juice concentrate’, invert sugar, maltodextrin, dextrose, lactose, soluble or insoluble fiber, hydrogenated or interesterified oil.”

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The results of the study 

In comparison to those in the bottom 10% of unprocessed food consumption, those who ate processed foods had a greater chance of dying from heart disease or diabetes. However, it is important to note that the data regarding dietary habits was gathered only once in 1995, so it doesn’t account for the way participants’ eating habits may have changed over time, for better or for worse. 


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