Eating large amounts of heavily processed food, such as ready meals and packaged snacks, can increase the risk for stroke, heart attack, and early death.
Two separate studies in France and Spain examined the potential impact of consuming factory-processed food regularly. These products contain industrial ingredients that have been linked to medical conditions such as high blood pressure, obesity, and cancer.
University Of Paris Study
In the first study, researchers at the University of Paris looked at the health and diet of more than 100,000 people throughout the course of five years.
Participants who ate "ultra-processed" food the most had a higher risk of developing stroke, heart attack, and other cardiovascular issues.
Those who increased the amount of processed food they consumed by 10 percentage points, such as from 10 percent to 20 percent, their risk for diseases also rose by 12 percent.
The results do not show that consumption of processed food can cause serious illnesses. Also, the effects that the researchers observed did not appear to be large, even among participants who ate the most ready meals and packaged snacks.
However, the study suggests that 277 cases of cardiovascular illnesses could arise in 100,000 heavy consumers of factory-processed food every year, compared to 242 cases among those of the same who do not eat as much ultra-processed food.
Mathilde Touvier, a researcher from the University of Paris and one of the authors of the study, said there is enough evidence for public health officials to urge people to cut back on their consumption of such unhealthy food.
"The public should avoid these foods as much as they can," Touvier said.
"We need to go back to more basic diets."
Food items that are heavily processed in factories often contain industrial ingredients, combining sugar, starches, and saturated fats with certain additives such as sweeteners, flavorings, and even those considered as "sensory enhancers."
In the United Kingdom, ultra-processed food have become so popular that they have already taken up about half of the country's diet, which is more than any other European nation.
The findings of the University of Paris research are featured in the British Medical Journal.
University Of Navarra Study
Meanwhile, the second study was conducted by a team from the University of Navarra in Pamplona. The researchers observed the health and diet of close to 20,000 people from 1999 to 2014.
During their experiment, the researchers saw that as much as 335 of the participants died. They examined these individuals' age, gender, body mass index, and whether they smoked or not.
Participants who ate the most amount of ultra-processed food, or those who had more than four servings of such food daily, were 62 percent more likely to die early than those who ate less than two servings each day.
The researchers also found that for every additional serving of heavily processed food that the participants consumed, it increased the individuals' risk for early death by as much as 18 percent.
Maira Bes-Rastrollo, a researcher at the University of Navarra and lead author of the study, said the rise in death rates alongside an increase in consumption is proof that ultra-processed food are to be blamed. She also pointed out the importance of recognizing such food items.
"Ultra-processed foods are made predominantly or entirely from industrial substances and contain little or no whole foods," Bes-Rastrollo said.
"They are ready to heat, drink, or eat."
The results of the University of Navarra study are also published in the British Medical Journal.
In the French research, Touvier said it was not clear how heavily processed food actually harm the health of people. Despite factoring in the nutritional value of such food products, she said they were still able to see an association between consumption and increased risks for disease and early death.
Touvier and her colleagues believe it may be because ultra-processed food tend to replace healthier, more nutritious options in people's diets. It could also be caused by the unhealthy additives and contaminants often included in processing and packaging these types of food.