Ultra-processed foods — such as ready meals and junk food like crisps and fizzy drinks — can lead to a 58 per cent increased risk of heart failure, a study has warned.
Experts from Italy studied the diets and health of 22,000 people — finding that regular consumption of such foods increased premature death rates by 26 per cent.
A staple of the common supermarket, processed foods are popular because they are easy to manufacture, cheap to purchase and tasty to eat.
Processed ready meals are often a lot quicker to cook — and can be readied in the microwave in less than 10 minutes compared to 30–40 minutes of regular meal prep.
While many criticisms have been levied at the high sugar content typical of processed foods, the problems may come from the processing itself, the team said.
Heart and circulatory diseases are responsible for a quarter of all deaths — or 170,000 individuals — in the UK each year.
‘Efforts aimed to lead the population towards a healthier diet can no longer be addressed only by calories counting or by vague references to the Mediterranean diet,’ said epidemiologist Licia Iacoviello of the University of Insubria, Italy.
‘Sure, we obtained good results by those means, but now the battlefront is moving.’
‘Young people, in particular, are increasingly exposed to pre-packaged foods — easy to prepare and consume, extremely attractive and generally cheap.’
In their study, Dr Iacoviello and colleagues studied the dietary habits and health of 22,000 people over an eight year period.
They found that those subjects who regularly consumed highly processed foods — that is, such accounted for 14.6 per cent of their overall diet — were 26 per cent more likely to suffer a premature death.
Furthermore, these foods were found to increase the risk of death from cardiovascular disease specifically by around 58 per cent.