Ultra-processed food, consumed weekly, risks death or development of cardiovascular disease, according to Dr. Matina Kouvari, of Harokopio University of Athens, presenting at ESC Congress 2021. The analysis used data from the ATTICA prospective study, which was conducted over a ten-year period, from 2001-2012, in Greece.
Ultra-processed food refers to a wide range of products such as mass-produced bread, ready meals, fast foods, sweets and desserts, salty snacks, breakfast cereals, reconstituted meat including chicken and fish nuggets, instant noodles and soups, tinned vegetables with added salt, sugar-coated dried fruit, sodas, and sweetened beverages.
The study enrolled adults free of cardiovascular disease at baseline, who were asked about the frequency and portion sizes of a range of foods and beverages consumed during the previous seven days. The researchers also used a questionnaire to assess level of adherence to a heart healthy dietary pattern, i.e., the Mediterranean diet. Participants were assigned a score of 0 to 55 – higher values meant better adherence.
Participants were followed up for 10 years for the occurrence of fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events including heart attack, unstable angina, stroke, heart failure and arrhythmias.
Research showed that for participants with a Mediterranean diet score less than 27, each additional weekly serving of ultra-processed food was associated with a 19% higher likelihood of cardiovascular disease within the decade.
In those with a moderate to high level of adherence to the Mediterranean diet – score above 27 – each additional weekly serving of ultra-processed food was associated with an 8% higher likelihood of cardiovascular disease within 10 years.
Kouvari said: “Our study suggests that the detrimental relationship with cardiovascular disease is even stronger in those with a generally unhealthy diet. Public health initiatives and nutrition policies are needed to promote nutritious food choices while for individuals, limiting ultra-processed food intake seems sensible.”