It is no surprise that consuming processed foods can lead to poor heart health. But new preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions shows the alarming rate at which processed foods can decrease heart health.
Ultra-processed foods account for more than half of an average American’s daily calories. And these foods have been linked to lower measures of cardiovascular health.
“Healthy diets play an important role in maintaining a healthy heart and blood vessels,” said Zefeng Zhang, an epidemiologist at the CDC. “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.”
For the study, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected between 2011 and 2016. The reviewed results came from 13,446 adults, aged 20 years and older who had completed a 24-hour dietary recall and who answered questions about their cardiovascular health.
A Decrease in Overall Cardiovascular Health
They found that for every five percent increase in calories from ultra-processed foods a person consumed, there was a corresponding decrease in overall cardiovascular health. Those who ate approximately 70 percent of their calories from ultra-processed foods were half as likely to have “ideal” cardiovascular health. This was compared with participants who ate 40 percent or less of their calories from ultra-processed foods, as defined by the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7.
To distinguish between the extent and purpose of industrial processing they underwent, foods were categorized into groups. Ultra-processed foods are made entirely or mostly from substances extracted from foods such as starches, added sugar, fats, and other compounds. These can also include cosmetic additives such as artificial flavors, colors, or emulsifiers.
Examples of these types of foods can include soft drinks, packaged salty snacks, cookies, cakes, processed meats, instant soups, and many other items that are often marketed as “convenience foods.”
Donna Arnett, Ph.D., past-president of the American Heart Association and dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky in Lexington spoke about the findings of the study. “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.”
Although convenience foods may be easy and temping, take the time to think about the long-term effects of these foods. By simply eliminating processed foods out of a daily diet, you can improve overall health including blood pressure and cholesterol, and even reduce risk of illness or disease in the future.