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8 Dangerous Foods That Are Shortening Your Life, According to Science

A recent study found that these ultra-processed foods increase your risk of death from all causes.
FACT CHECKED BY Faye Brennan
Woman reaching for chip and holding soda in processed junk food array on table with popcorn

Unless your diet consists solely of whole, raw foods that you prepare yourself, it's inevitable that you'll be eating some processed foods every single day. "Most food needs to go through some sort of processing … to even be edible and digestible," registered dietitian Stacey Nelson explained recently to Harvard Men's Health Watch. "The minute you cook something, you are processing it."

That said, there's a big difference between healthy and unhealthy processed foods, which is why scientists have been creating food classification systems to distinguish between the two. One such system is NOVA, which was developed by researchers at the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2010 and groups all foods into four different categories based on how they are made. (Speaking of, here are the 100 Easiest Recipes You Can Make.)

Systems like NOVA gave rise to the notion of "ultra-processed food"—aka the worst processed foods that you want to avoid eating as much as possible. These foods are "formulated" (via industrial and chemical processes) using multiple processed ingredients that are themselves made using sugar, oils, fats, salt, etc.

A recent study published in August 2020 in the journal Nutrition found that higher consumption of these ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of death from all causes.

Specifically, the analysis looked over data from 20 different studies involving a total of 334,114 participants and found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, obesity, depression, irritable bowel syndrome, cancer, postmenopausal breast cancer, asthma, wheezing, and frailty.

The outliers from this list were prostate and colorectal cancers, gestational diabetes, or the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, which did not appear to be linked to a diet high in ultra-processed foods. That said, the study authors stated that their results will need to be confirmed using large-scale prospective clinical studies before specific recommendations for the general public can be made.

Still, this research suggests that people who eat more ultra-processed foods are more likely to die prematurely from all causes and/or suffer from a variety of illnesses and health conditions. With this in mind, consider cutting these 8 ultra-processed foods from your diet ASAP.

1

Sugar-sweetened beverages

pouring coke soda into glass
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Sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, are one of the most ultra-processed foods, according to food classification systems like NOVA. In fact, here are the 108 most popular sodas ranked by how toxic they are.

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2

Sweets

candy bars in grocery store checkout aisle
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Your favorite candies, cookies, and other treats are often pumped with added sugars, which aren't real food, and can cause a slew of health issues. Here are the warning signs that you're eating too many sweets.

3

Ice cream

variety of ice cream bars and pops from ice cream truck
CL Shebley/Shutterstock

Ice cream tastes oh-so-good, but it's often full of chemicals and other unnatural ingredients that make it an ultra-processed food. Make sure to avoid the #1 worst ice cream pint.

4

Chocolates

woman eating bite of chocolate bar
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Depending on how it's made, chocolate can have some serious health benefits… or be considered an ultra-processed food to avoid. Here's the toxic ingredient in chocolate you should be looking for on labels.

5

Savory snacks

snacks
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The snack aisle in the grocery store may be the most fun to go down, but it's also one of the most processed. Here's a list of the worst snacks you should never have in your pantry.

6

Burgers

carls jr burger
Courtesy of Carl's Jr.

Burgers are a staple in the classic American diet and a fast-food favorite, but that doesn't mean they're good for you. In fact, they can be an ultra-processed nightmare for your body. Here are the worst fast-food burgers of 2020 that should be avoided at all costs.

7

Processed meat

Processed deli meat cold cuts
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Processed meats (like deli slices) contain a bunch of unnatural ingredients that can be harmful to your health. Here are all the nasty culprits found in deli meat alone.

8

Frozen dishes

man microwaving frozen meal
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As convenient as they are, frozen meals are often the worst offenders when it comes to overly processed foods. Here's a list of the worst frozen meals to always leave on grocery store shelves.

For more healthy eating tips, make sure to read up on the 6 diets you can follow to live longer, according to dietitians.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a food, health, and culture writer whose work has appeared online and in print for Reader's Digest as well as Health Digest, Huffington Post, Taste of Home, and others. Read more