Heart disease risk goes up 9% with a portion of ultra-processed food

Time to ditch the burgers? Eating just ONE serving of ultra-processed foods a day can increase your risk of dying from heart disease by 9% 

  • Ultra-processed foods include sweets, crisps, chocolate, some bread and buns
  • It also includes ‘healthy’ low-calorie drinks, protein bars and some cereal bars
  • Study authors don’t name any specific products by brand just the food types

Having a single serving of ultra-processed food including crisps, sweets, chocolate and burgers can increase your risk of dying from heart disease by 9%, study shows. 

Researchers from New York University used data from a study of 3,003 middle-aged adults to examine the role of processed foods on cardiovascular disease.

The team found that the higher consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and it gets worse the more you eat. 

‘Our findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting cardiovascular benefits of limiting ultra-processed foods,’ said Filippa Juul, study lead author.

Drinking low-calories soft drinks and other ‘healthy’ branded snack foods including cereal and protein bars, was also linked to an increased risk of heart disease. 

Having a single serving of ultra-processed food including crisps, sweets, chocolate and burgers can increase your risk of dying from heart disease by 9%, study shows


Some ultra-processed foods are unexpected, included ‘healthy’ branded products.

This includes protein bars, breakfast cereals and most industrially produced breads.

Other examples of ultra-processed foods include carbonated drinks, sweet or savoury packaged snacks, ice-cream, chocolate, and sweets.

It also includes margarines and spreads, sausages, and burgers.

Many fast foods products would be included in the list but the authors didn’t name any single brand. 

When foods are processed it may remove good nutrients and other naturally occurring benefits, while adding non-beneficial nutrients and food additives.

Processing also changes the physical structure of foods, the team added. 

The consumption of ultra-processed foods is linked with a number of health conditions and problems.

Including: Being overweight/obese, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and now heart disease.  

‘The consumption of ultra-processed foods makes up over half of the daily calories in the average American diet and are increasingly consumed worldwide. 

‘As poor diet is a major modifiable risk factor for heart disease, it represents a critical target in prevention efforts,’  said Juul, adding that ultra-processed foods include many marketed as being healthy.

This includes foods such as protein bars, breakfast cereals and most industrially produced breads.

‘Population-wide strategies such as taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages and other ultra-processed foods and recommendations regarding processing levels in national dietary guidelines are needed,’ Juul warned.

That is if governments want to reduce the intake of ultra-processed foods and in turn help people lead a healthier lifestyle.

‘Of course, we must also implement policies that increase the availability, accessibility and affordability of nutritious, minimally processed foods, especially in disadvantaged populations,’ the author added.

‘At the clinical level, there is a need for increased commitment to individualised nutrition counseling for adopting sustainable heart-healthy diets.’

Researchers used data from the Framingham Offspring Study to examine the role ultra-processed foods play in cardiovascular disease (CVD). 

After excluding participants with pre-existing CVD or missing data, the study included 3,003 middle-aged adults with an average age of 53.5 years. 

Drinking low-calories soft drinks and other ‘healthy’ branded snack foods including cereal and protein bars, was also linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Stock image


  • Unprocessed or minimally processed foods, including fresh, dry or frozen plant and animal foods
  • Processed culinary ingredients, including table sugar, oils, fats, salts and other items used in kitchens to make culinary preparations
  • Processed foods, including foods such as canned fish and vegetables and artisanal cheeses
  • Ultra-processed foods, including industrial formulations made with no or minimal whole foods and produced with additives such as flavorings or preservatives
  • Culinary preparations, which encompassed mixed dishes that were indicated to be homemade or assumed to be homemade due to lack of detailed information

Over half of participants were female, 33.1% had undergone 16 years or more of education and two-thirds were either former or current smokers. 

Overall, 5.8% had diabetes and 19% had high blood pressure – with prevalence of both higher among those who eat a lot of ultra-processed foods. 

Diet was assessed by mail using a food questionnaire where participants reported the frequency of consumption of certain foods in the previous year, with options ranging from  less than one serving per months to six servings per day. 

The US Department of Agriculture nutrient database was used to calculate nutrient intakes from reported dietary intakes and classified the foods into five categories.

These categories include unprocessed or fresh foods, processed including sugar and oils, processed including canned foods, ultra processed including fast food burgers and crisps, and finally culinary foods made at home with minimal information.

The researchers examined incidences of stroke, heart disease and other related problems that come on suddenly, and slowly over time


A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body, which is usually due to a problem with electrical signals in the organ.

This causes the brain to be starved of oxygen, which results in sufferers not breathing and losing consciousness.

In the UK, more than 30,000 cardiac arrests occur a year outside of hospital, compared to over 356,000 in the US.

Cardiac arrests are different to heart attacks, with the latter occurring when blood supply to the heart muscle is cut off due to a clot in one of the coronary arteries. 

Common causes include heart attacks, heart disease and heart muscle inflammation.

Drug overdose and losing a large amount of blood can also be to blame.

Giving an electric shock through the chest wall via a defibrillator can start the heart again. 

In the meantime, CPR can keep oxygen circulating around the body.

The researchers examined incidences of stroke, heart disease and other related problems that come on suddenly, and slowly over time.

This was split into hard CVD – including non-sudden coronary death, heart attack and stroke, and hard CHD (coronary heart disease) – sudden death and heart attack. 

During an average of 18 years of follow-up, a total of 648 heart events occurred, including 251 cases of sudden cardiovascular disease and 163 cases of sudden coronary heart disease among those involved in the study. 

There were 713 deaths during the follow-up period, including 108 CVD deaths.

Participants with the highest intakes of ultra-processed foods had higher incident rates compared to those consuming the least amount of ultra-processed foods.

Each daily serving of ultra-processed food was associated with a 7% increase in the risk of hard CVD, a 9% increase in the risk of hard CHD, a 5% increase in overall CVD and a 9% increased risk in cardiovascular disease mortality. 

Researchers also found that intake of bread was associated with an increased risk of hard CVD, hard CHD and overall mortality, while ultra-processed meat intake was associated with an increased risk of hard CVD and overall CVD. 

Salty snack foods were associated with increased risk of hard CVD and CHD, while consumption of low-calorie soft drinks were associated with increased risk of CVD.    

The findings have been published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 


Obesity is defined as an adult having a BMI of 30 or over.

A healthy person’s BMI – calculated by dividing weight in kg by height in metres, and the answer by the height again – is between 18.5 and 24.9. 

Among children, obesity is defined as being in the 95th percentile.

Percentiles compare youngsters to others their same age. 

For example, if a three-month-old is in the 40th percentile for weight, that means that 40 per cent of three-month-olds weigh the same or less than that baby.

Around 58 per cent of women and 68 per cent of men in the UK are overweight or obese. 

The condition costs the NHS around £6.1billion, out of its approximate £124.7 billion budget, every year.

This is due to obesity increasing a person’s risk of a number of life-threatening conditions.

Such conditions include type 2 diabetes, which can cause kidney disease, blindness and even limb amputations.

Research suggests that at least one in six hospital beds in the UK are taken up by a diabetes patient.

Obesity also raises the risk of heart disease, which kills 315,000 people every year in the UK – making it the number one cause of death.

Carrying dangerous amounts of weight has also been linked to 12 different cancers. 

This includes breast, which affects one in eight women at some point in their lives.

Among children, research suggests that 70 per cent of obese youngsters have high blood pressure or raised cholesterol, which puts them at risk of heart disease.

Obese children are also significantly more likely to become obese adults. 

And if children are overweight, their obesity in adulthood is often more severe.  

As many as one in five children start school in the UK being overweight or obese, which rises to one in three by the time they turn 10.  

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