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This Eating Habit Is Shortening Your Life, Says Science

You might want to skip that bag of chips...
FACT CHECKED BY Joseph Neese

You likely already know that consuming ultra-processed foods—items made with highly processed ingredients and additives like flavored potato chips and sugary breakfast cereals—isn't as healthy as eating natural, whole foods. After all, it's no great surprise that a home-cooked meal is typically better for you than your go-to fast-food order. Now, new research links eating ultra-processed foods to an enhanced risk of death in adults.

The meta-analysis, published last week in the journal Nutrients, looked at data from more than 200,000 adults and compared information about their diets to measures of mortality. According to the findings, the higher the percentage of an individual's total caloric intake from ultra-processed foods, the greater their risk of death was from from any cause, from cardiovascular disease, and from other heart-related issues. (RELATED: The 100 Unhealthiest Foods On the Planet)

"It's really exciting to see studies coming out that link diet to health like this one; we definitely need more people to be looking at that relationship," Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, the author of Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep and How to Eat to Beat Disease Cookbook, told Eat This, Not That! in an interview. "I do want to note that the authors end with stating that further experimental studies will be needed so we can better understand definite conclusions between eating ultra-processed foods, how much, and how they affect the health of diverse individuals over time."

There's a lot that scientists still don't know, but one thing's for certain. If you order a fried chicken sandwich from your favorite fast-food joint for lunch, this doesn't mean that you're destined to die sooner. Rather, people who eat more ultra-processed foods on a regular basis are generally more likely to die sooner.

RELATED: One Major Side Effect of Eating Ultra-Processed Foods, Says New Study

"The thing I worry most about how people may interpret a study like this is that they may see the title or headline and feel that, if they do happen to consume ultra-processed foods, that could equal deathand that's not what the study is saying," Hultin cautioned. "It's not a single type of food that makes or breaks our health. It's the general dietary pattern that needs to be focused on the most."

If you want to shift your diet towards more unrefined, whole foods, but you're not sure where to start, consider these 15 Homemade Swaps for Ultra-Processed Foods. And to get all of the latest news delivered straight to your email inbox every day, don't forget to sign up for our newsletter!

Clara Olshansky
Clara Olshansky (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer and comic whose web content has appeared in Food & Wine, Harper’s Magazine, Men's Health, and Reductress. Read more