Ultra-processed foods, which account for more than half of the daily calories of an average American, are linked to lower measures of cardiovascular health, according to preliminary research to be presented at scientific sessions of the American Heart Association November 16-18 in Philadelphia.
Researchers at the United States 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 about 70% of their calories from ultra-processed foods were half as likely to have "ideal" cardiovascular health, as defined by Life's Simple 7® from the American Heart Associations, compared people who ate 40% or less. calories from ultra-processed foods.
Foods have been classified into groups according to the extent and purpose of the industrial processing they undergo. Ultra-processed foods are made entirely or mainly from substances extracted from food, such as fats, starches, hydrogenated fats, added sugar, modified starch and other compounds and include cosmetic additives such as artificial flavors, colors or emulsifiers. Examples include soft drinks, packaged savory snacks, cookies, cakes, processed meats, chicken nuggets, powdered and packaged instant soups and many items often marketed as "convenience foods".
"Healthy eating plays an important role in maintaining a healthy heart and blood vessels," said Zefeng Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., epidemiologist at the CDC. "Eating ultra-processed foods often displaces healthier, nutrient-dense foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, which are strongly linked to good heart health. In addition, ultra- processed foods are often high in salt, added sugars, saturated fats and other substances associated with increased risk of heart disease. "
Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Review Survey (NHANES) collected between 2011 and 2016, CDC researchers examined the results of 13,446 adults, aged 20 years and older, who completed a 24-hour dietary recall and answered questions about their cardiovascular health.
Cardiovascular health is defined by Life's Simple 7 of the American Heart Association as measures of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, prevention of tobacco products, good nutrition, healthy body weight and adequate physical activity.
"This study highlights the importance of building a healthier diet by eliminating foods such as sugary drinks, cookies, cakes and other processed foods," said Donna Arnett, Ph.D., former president of the American Heart Association and Dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. "There are things you can do every day to improve your health a little. For example, instead of grabbing this loaf of white bread, take a loaf of whole grain bread or wheat. Try replacing a burger with fish once or twice a week. Small changes can help improve heart health.