Risks of Processed Foods Apply to Plant-Based Ones, Too

Study issues a cardiovascular warning
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 11, 2024 1:07 PM CDT
Not All Plant-Based Diets Are Good for You
This file photo shows a shopper walking down the canned soup aisle at a grocery store in Cincinnati.   (AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)

With studies warning of the dangers of highly altered, industrially formulated foods, some consumers might feel inclined to move toward plant-based ultra-processed foods as a better option. There are, after all, numerous health benefits to a plant-based diet. Unfortunately those benefits appear to go out the window when industrial manufacturing gets involved. Researchers say their new study is the first to link plant-based UPFs, ranging from French fries to fruit juices, to a higher risk of cardiovascular diseases. The study published Monday in the Lancet Regional Health-Europe also uncovered a higher risk of early death, per CNN.

"Eating plant-based products can be beneficial, acting as protection against health problems, or it can represent a risk—it all depends on the level of processing of these foods," says contributing author Renata Levy, a nutrition and health researcher at Brazil's University of São Paulo. The study utilized UK Biobank data on more than 118,000 people aged 40 to 69 who answered diet-related questions over roughly a decade. It found consuming plant-based UPFs boosted bad cholesterol and hypertension, increased one's risk of cardiovascular disease by 5%, and increased one's risk of early death by 13%, per CNN.

Every 10% increase in the consumption of fresh, frozen, or minimally processed plant-based foods lowered one's risk of coronary heart disease by 8% and one's risk of dying from heart disease by 13%. This "suggests that there's something uniquely damaging about ultra-processing that changes a food in a way that can harm a person's health long term," per the Washington Post. More than half of the plant-based UPFs consumed were packaged breads, pastries, buns, cakes, and cookies, which analysts note are unhealthy even when not industrially made. Just 0.5% were meat alternatives, making it hard to determine how much risk they carried. (More processed foods stories.)

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