Impact of Ultra-Processed Food on Heart Health Highlighted by Two Studies

by Ella

A stark revelation has emerged from two separate studies, indicating that the consumption of ultra-processed food significantly elevates the risks of heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, and heart attacks. Experts are calling for global attention, labelling these findings as a “wake-up call” for governments worldwide.

The proliferation of heavily processed items, such as ready meals, protein bars, cereals, fizzy drinks, and fast food, has seen a steep rise in global consumption. This trend is particularly notable in countries like the UK and the US, where over half of the average diet now comprises ultra-processed food (UPF). Certain demographics, particularly the younger population, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and those with fewer financial resources, find themselves consuming diets consisting of up to 80% UPF.


The recent research adds to an expanding body of evidence, highlighting the “tidal wave of harm” caused by UPF. Presented at the world’s largest heart conference, two substantial studies underscore the severe cardiovascular repercussions of UPF consumption.


In the first study, involving a 15-year tracking of 10,000 women, it was revealed that those with the highest UPF content in their diets were 39% more prone to developing high blood pressure than those with lower consumption levels. This correlation persisted even after accounting for factors like salt, sugar, and fat intake.


High blood pressure, scientifically known as hypertension, amplifies the risk of severe heart conditions, encompassing heart disease, kidney disease, peripheral arterial disease, vascular dementia, and aortic aneurysms.


The second study, a comprehensive meta-analysis comprising over 325,000 men and women, demonstrated that individuals with the highest UPF consumption faced a 24% heightened risk of experiencing cardiovascular events, including heart attacks, angina, and strokes.

The research further connected a 10% surge in daily UPF intake to a 6% escalation in heart disease risk. Notably, individuals with UPF comprising less than 15% of their diet exhibited the lowest vulnerability to heart-related complications. The study was conducted under the guidance of the Fourth Military Medical University in Xi’an, China.

These groundbreaking findings were unveiled at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Amsterdam. Leading cardiologists, scientists, and researchers worldwide were briefed on the research outcomes, inciting calls for immediate action.

Ultra-processed foods undergo multiple manufacturing processes and often contain high levels of salt and sugar, along with various additives and preservatives. These foods tend to lack the nutritional content found in fresh or minimally processed alternatives, such as plain yogurt, fresh fruits, vegetables, and homemade bread.

Previous research has previously linked heightened UPF consumption to various health issues, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Speaking on the issue, Anushriya Pant, a researcher from the University of Sydney, emphasized that many individuals are oblivious to the fact that seemingly healthy foods, such as store-bought sandwiches, wraps, soups, and low-fat yogurts, fall under the UPF category. She warned, “Foods you believe to be healthy might actually be contributing to the development of high blood pressure.”

Of note, women tend to consume more UPF compared to men. Further research is warranted to determine if this disparity is influenced by targeted marketing of ultra-processed and low-fat foods toward women.

Prominent UPF expert Dr. Chris van Tulleken stressed the importance of incorporating black warning labels on UPF packaging, as has been implemented in countries like Chile and Mexico. Additionally, he advocated for stringent regulations on UPF marketing and advertising, particularly those aimed at children.

The UK Department of Health and Social Care highlighted its efforts to curtail unhealthy food choices by legislating restrictions on certain product placement and promotions in supermarkets.

The studies unveiled in Amsterdam have prompted discussions around UPF’s broader implications, raising the possibility that its harm may extend beyond high fat, sugar, and salt content. Experts stress the urgency for comprehensive strategies that support long and healthy lives through an environment conducive to healthy choices.



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