Ultra-processed foods increase the risk of a repeat heart attack or stroke

Ultra processed foods (UPF) are associated with an elevated risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in patients who have had previous cardiovascular events, according to new data from the European Heart Journal.

Researchers followed 1,171 patients with a mean age 67 years old from 2005 to 2010. All patients already have CVD at the start of the study. Data came from the Moli-sani epidemiological project.

In the analysis, patients who ate more UPF were at an increased risk of all-cause and CVD-related mortality.

Even among patients who follow the Mediterranean diet, the team found, eating ultra-processed foods still presents health risks.

"We saw that people with a higher consumption of ultra-processed foods have a two-thirds increased risk of a second MI or stroke, this time fatal, compared to participants eating these foods less frequently,” lead author Marialaura Bonaccio, a researcher with the department of epidemiology and prevention at IRCCS NEUROMED in Italy, said in a prepared statement. “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.

The authors noted that the definition of ultra-processed food is not associated with nutritional content; it has more to do with the process used for its preparation and storage. Even if a food is nutritionally balanced, it could still be considered ultra-processed. 

“This study conveys an important message: it is time to overcome the distinction between healthy and unhealthy food solely on the basis of the nutrient value," co-author Licia Iacoviello, MD, director of the department of epidemiology and prevention at Neuromed, said in the same statement. “In other words, a person could follow a Mediterranean diet, perhaps rich in legumes or vegetables, a healthy diet we would say. But the simple definition of 'Mediterranean' does not tell us 'how' those foods were prepared.”

Read the full study here.

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