Too much ultra-processed foods linked to lower heart health

November 11, 2019

DALLAS, Nov. 11, 2019 -- Ultra-processed foods, which account for more than half of an average American's daily calories, are linked to lower measures of cardiovascular health, according to preliminary research to be presented at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2019 -- November 16-18 in Philadelphia. The Association's Scientific Sessions is an annual premier global exchange of the latest advances in cardiovascular science for researchers and clinicians.

Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that for every 5% increase in calories from ultra-processed foods a person ate, there was a corresponding decrease in overall cardiovascular health. Adults who ate approximately 70% of their calories from ultra-processed foods were half as likely to have "ideal" cardiovascular health, as defined by the American Heart Associations' Life's Simple 7®, compared with people who ate 40% or less of their calories from ultra-processed foods.

Foods were categorized into groups by the extent and purpose of industrial processing they undergo. Ultra-processed foods are made entirely or mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, hydrogenated fats, added sugar, modified starch and other compounds and include cosmetic additives such as artificial flavors, colors or emulsifiers. Examples include soft drinks, packaged salty snacks, cookies, cakes, processed meats, chicken nuggets, powdered and packaged instant soups and many items often marketed as "convenience foods."

"Healthy diets play an important role in maintaining a healthy heart and blood vessels," said Zefeng Zhang, M.D., Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the CDC. "Eating ultra-processed foods often displaces healthier foods that are rich in nutrients, like fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, which are strongly linked to good heart health. In addition, ultra-processed foods are often high in salt, added sugars, saturated fat and other substances associated with increasing the risk of heart disease."

Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) collected between 2011 and 2016, researchers at the CDC reviewed the results from 13,446 adults, 20 years of age and older, who completed a 24-hour dietary recall and answered questions about their cardiovascular health.

Cardiovascular health is defined by the American Heart Association's Life's Simple 7 as measures of healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels, avoidance of tobacco products, good nutrition, healthy body weight and adequate physical activity.

"This study underscores the importance of building a healthier diet by eliminating foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages, cookies, cakes and other processed foods," said Donna Arnett, Ph.D., past-president of the American Heart Association and dean of the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. "There are things you can do every day to improve your health just a little bit. For example, instead of grabbing that loaf of white bread, grab a loaf of bread that's whole grain or wheat bread. Try replacing a hamburger with fish once or twice a week. Making small changes can add up to better heart health."
-end-
Co-authors are Sandra Jackson, Ph.D.; Euridice Martinez, Ph.D.; Cathleen Gillespie, M.S.; and Quanhe Yang, Ph.D. Author disclosures are in the abstract.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention funded the study.

Additional Resources:Statements and conclusions of study authors presented at American Heart Association scientific meetings are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect the Association's policy or position. The Association makes no representation or guarantee as to their accuracy or reliability. The Association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific Association programs and events. The Association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations and health insurance providers are available at https://www.heart.org/en/about-us/aha-financial-information.

The American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions is a premier global exchange of the latest advances in cardiovascular science for researchers and clinicians. Scientific Sessions 2019 is November 16-18 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. More than 12,000 leading physicians, scientists, cardiologists and allied health care professionals from around the world convene at the Scientific Sessions to participate in basic, clinical and population science presentations, discussions and curricula that can shape the future of cardiovascular science and medicine, including prevention and quality improvement. During the three-day meeting, attendees receive exclusive access to over 4,100 original research presentations and can earn Continuing Medical Education (CME), Continuing Education (CE) or Maintenance of Certification (MOC) credits for educational sessions. Engage in the Scientific Sessions conversation on social media via #AHA19.

About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. We are dedicated to ensuring equitable health in all communities. Through collaboration with numerous organizations, and powered by millions of volunteers, we fund innovative research, advocate for the public's health and share lifesaving resources. The Dallas-based organization has been a leading source of health information for nearly a century. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.

American Heart Association

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