Health Risks of Plant-Based Ultra-Processed Foods Revealed

Health Risks of Plant-Based Ultra-Processed Foods Revealed | Healthcare 360 Magazine

A recent study led by the University of São Paulo, in collaboration with Imperial College London, has shed light on the health risks associated with plant-based ultra-processed foods (UPFs). Analyzing data from over 118,000 participants, the research indicates that these foods may increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases more than less-processed plant-based alternatives. The findings, published in The Lancet Regional Health—Europe, suggest that while plant-based diets generally reduce disease risk, the same cannot be said for plant-based UPFs. These Ultra-Processed foods were linked to a 7% increase in the risk of cardiovascular diseases compared to their unprocessed counterparts. Furthermore, consumption of all types of UPFs, whether plant-based or animal-based, was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases and related mortality.

Dr. Eszter Vamos from the School of Public Health at Imperial College London highlighted the significance of these findings. She emphasized that fresh plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are known for their health benefits. However, the study shows that plant-based ultra-processed foods do not offer the same protective health effects and are linked to poor health outcomes. This underscores the need for dietary guidelines to promote the reduction of UPF consumption, even as they advocate for plant-based diets.

Impact of Plant-Based Diets and Ultra-Processed Foods

Plant-based diets are generally associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, including heart attacks and strokes. However, many plant-based foods, including popular meat-free alternatives like sausages, burgers, and nuggets, fall under the category of UPFs. These Ultra-Processed foods are often marketed as healthy but are typically high in salt, fat, sugar, and artificial additives. Previous studies have linked UPFs to various adverse health outcomes, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

In this latest study, researchers from the University of São Paulo, Imperial College London, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) examined the health impacts of plant-based UPFs. They utilized data from the UK Biobank study, which involved participants from England, Scotland, and Wales aged 40 to 69 years. The participants’ diets were assessed over at least two days, and this information was cross-referenced with hospital and mortality records to determine cardiovascular disease outcomes.

The study categorized food items according to the Nova classification system, distinguishing between UPFs and non-UPFs. Foods were further classified as plant-based or animal-based. The researchers found that overall plant-based food consumption did not correlate with increased disease risk. However, higher intake of plant-based non-UPFs was linked to better health outcomes. Specifically, replacing plant-based UPFs with non-UPFs was associated with a 7% lower risk of cardiovascular diseases and a 15% lower risk of mortality from these conditions.

Implications for Dietary Guidelines and Public Health

The study’s findings emphasize the importance of considering the degree of processing in plant-based foods. Dr. Fernanda Rauber, the study’s first author, explained that despite being plant-based, UPFs can contribute to health risks like dyslipidemia and hypertension due to their composition and processing methods. The presence of food additives and industrial contaminants in these Ultra-Processed foods can cause oxidative stress and inflammation, exacerbating health risks. Therefore, the research supports promoting plant-based food choices that minimize processing to improve cardiovascular health outcomes.

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