The popular food type that could increase your risk of heart disease

Professor Hugh Watkins on genetic medicines for heart disease

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The food type in question is known as ultra-processed, so called because of how many times the ingredients within it are processed before they reach the human body from their source.

The more processed a food is, the less healthy it tends to be and the more times it has been changed or added to; this normally means it has been mixed in with high levels of fat, salt, and preservatives.

Ultra-processed food normally comes in the form of ready meals, pizzas, sugary cereals, baked goods, and sugary snacks.

It is these foods which the researchers say can dramatically increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Results from the analysis showed those with the least healthy diet were 19 percent more likely to die from any cause and 32 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease.

Who did they analyse?

The analysis was conducted across multiple studies which looked at the impact of diet overall health and how much it impacted someone’s risk of a premature death, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

While the first study looked specifically at how diet impacted someone’s risk of developing bowel cancer, it was the second study that focused on cardiovascular disease.

The findings of this study were founded on data from 22, 895 Italian adults. During this study the quantity and quality of food and beverages was measured and deaths recorded over a 14 year period from 2005 to 2019.

It was from this study that how much food had been processed was identified as a key risk factor for heart disease. Furthermore, ultra-processed food intake was still associated with a greater risk of mortality after its low quality was removed.

Does this mean ready meals are a risk factor for heart disease?

Yes and no. Ready meals and sugar snacks can’t be counted as a separate risk factor as they already form part of a diet which is itself a risk factor of note.

However, ready meals and ultra-processed foods sit at the extreme end of low-nutritional quality due to their high fat and salt content which can increase the risk of someone developing ‘entry level’ forms of heart disease such as high cholesterol and hypertension – also known as high blood pressure.

Due to the popularity in the northern hemisphere, both teams stress their work is of great importance despite any limitations to the study.

Their findings come at an important time for nations such as the UK which are entering a difficult autumn ahead of an even tougher winter.

Is this because of the cost of living crisis?

In part yes. With less money in their pockets, people will be less able to afford high quality food and, as a result, will be more able to stock up on foods with less nutritional value. Higher in preservatives and other nefarious dietary negatives, these foods will be less healthy, increasing the risk of a range of conditions.

What is the most common form of heart disease?

While heart disease affects the public in a variety of ways, some forms of the condition are more common than others. The most prevalent is coronary heart disease (CHD); this occurs when fatty deposits build up in the coronary arteries of the heart.

Symptoms of the condition include:
• Chest pain
• Shortness of breath
• Pain throughout the body
• Feeling faint
• Nausea.

The NHS notes however that “not everyone has the same symptoms and some people may not have any before hearing coronary heart disease is diagnosed”.

Can CHD be treated?

CHD can be treated; however, it depends on how early the condition is diagnosed. If it is diagnosed early it can be treated through lifestyle changes such as an improvement in diet and increased levels of exercise.

Should the condition have advanced, other measures may need to be taken or underlying conditions such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure treated through medicinal means.

To treat the CHD directly, medications often prescribed include those designed to thin the blood or widen the arteries. Since these medicines have a range of side effects, the NHS warns that “it may take a while to find one that works for you”.

Furthermore, once someone starts taking heart related medication, the NHS warns these should not be stopped abruptly without consultation with the GP who prescribed them.

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