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Eating higher levels of ultra-processed food may shorten lifespans by more than 10%, according to a new, unpublished study of over 500,000 people whom researchers followed for nearly three decades.

The risk went up to 15% for men and 14% for women once the data was adjusted. Diet soft drinks were the key contributor to ultra-processed food consumption.

This long-duration, cohort study further confirms the association between ultra-processed food intake and all-cause mortality, particularly from cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.


The NOVA Food Classification System was designed by Center for Epidemiological Studies in Health and Nutrition, School of Public Health,

University of Sao Paulo, Brazil. NOVA helps people “group foods according to the extent and purpose of the processing they undergo. Food processing as identified by NOVA involves physical, biological and chemical processes that occur after foods are separated from nature, and

before they are consumed or used in the preparation of dishes and meals.

Furthermore, this list includes "additives", whose function is to make the final product "palatable or more appealing", according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. The list of additives includes preservatives to resist mold and bacteria; emulsifiers to keep incompatible ingredients from separating; artificial colorings and dyes; anti-foaming, bulking, bleaching, gelling and glazing agents; and added or altered sugar, salt and fats designed to make food appetizing.


Diet drinks are considered ultra-processed food because they contain artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame potassium and stevia, and additional additives not found in whole foods. Diet beverages have been linked to a higher risk of dying early from cardiovascular disease as well as the onset of dementia, type 2 diabetes, obesity, stroke and metabolic syndrome, which can lead to heart disease and diabetes.

A March 2019 study found women who drank more than two servings a day of sugary beverages — defined as a standard glass, bottle or can — had a 63% increased risk of premature death compared with women who drank them less than once a month. Men who did the same had a 29% increase in risk.

Processed meats such as bacon, chicken nuggets, fish sticks, hot dogs, sausages, ham, corned beef, jerky and deli meats are also not recommended; studies have linked red and processed meats to bowel and stomach cancers, heart disease, diabetes and early death from any cause.

In fact, a study published in May that found similar results — a higher risk of premature death and death from cardiovascular disease in over 100,000 health professionals who ate ultra-processed foods — accessed ultra-processed food intake every four years and found consumption doubled between the mid-1980s and 2018.

What can you do?

One of the most powerful steps you can take to improve your health, boost energy levels, and prevent chronic diseases is to move to a whole food, plant-based diet.

There’s excellent scientific evidence that many chronic diseases can be prevented, controlled, or even reversed with a whole-food, plant-based diet. Scientific research highlighted in the landmark book The China Study shows that a plant-based diet can reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and other major illnesses. Many people also report bigger fitness payoffs, more energy, reduced inflammation, and better health outcomes after making the switch.


A whole-food, plant-based diet is based on the following principles:

  • ”Whole foods”: Natural foods that are not heavily processed. That means whole, unrefined, or minimally refined ingredients.

  • “Plant-based”: Food that comes from plants and is free of animal ingredients.

There is overlap between whole-food, plant-based (WFPB) and vegan diets, but there are also some key differences. A vegan diet can include highly processed imitation meats and cheeses; a WFPB diet eschews these products in favor of whole or minimally processed, close-to-nature foods that make it easy to meet your nutritional needs.



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