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UPF faces fresh scrutiny over health issues

Further evidence has emerged linking consumption of ultra-processed food (UPF) with negative health outcomes including serious heart conditions.

The Guardian reported that two large studies were presented at the world’s largest heart conference held in Amsterdam last week, both of which showed a negative impact from UPF consumption on cardiovascular health.

UPF, which includes foods like biscuits, cakes, and chicken and vegan nuggets, is facing intense levels of scrutiny amid claims that the health issues associated with its consumption are inherent to the processing itself and not just linked to the nutritional profile of the individual food item.

The first study tracked 10,000 women for 15 years and found that those with the highest proportion of UPF in their diet were 39% more likely to develop high blood pressure, which increases the risk of serious heart conditions, than those with the lowest. This was the case even after academics adjusted for the effect of salt, sugar and fat.

The second study, described as a gold-standard meta-analysis of more than 325,000 men and women, showed that those who ate the most UPF were 24% more likely to have cardiovascular events including heart attacks, strokes and angina.

Interest in UPF has exploded following the publication of the book Ultra Processed People by Dr Chris van Tulleken, an infectious diseases doctor and TV presenter. He told The Guardian: “The findings of these new papers are entirely consistent with a large and growing body of work showing that increasing consumption of UPF is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.”

Van Tulleken added: “There is now significant evidence that these products inflame the gut, disrupt appetite regulation, alter hormone levels and cause myriad other effects which likely increase the risk of cardiovascular and other disease much in the same way that smoking does.”

Food industry representatives have argued that there is no proven relationship between the degree of processing and the healthiness of a food product. The British Nutrition Foundation, meanwhile, has rejected calls for blanket dietary advice to avoid UPF, some of which it argued can contribute to an affordable, healthy, balanced diet.

In a recent review of the evidence, the UK government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) found thatmost systematic evidence reviews have found that increased consumption of processed food, and specifically UPF, was associated with a greater risk of adverse health outcomes, however it stopped short of calling for government intervention to reduce people’s exposure to UPF citing uncertainties around the quality of evidence available.