Steer Your Cart Around Ultraprocessed Foods

, Cardiologist—Virtua Cardiology

The next time you’re craving a quick and easy meal, you may want to put down the frozen pizza or bag of chips and opt for some carrots or a poke bowl instead.

Evidence continues to mount that consuming large amounts of ultraprocessed foods—factory-produced products that typically are ready to eat or pop into a microwave—can increase your risk for obesity, high blood pressure (hypertension) and cholesterol, diabetes, some cancers, and other chronic conditions.

Ultraprocessed foods are convenient, cheap, and tasty, but they’re also high in sugar, salt, saturated fat, and preservatives while being low in fiber and nutrients. So you may be eating a lot of calories, but not getting the nutrition you need.

Linked to heart disease, early death

Ultraprocessed foods can be found nearly everywhere in the supermarket and account for about 60 percent of the calories we consume each day. Examples include:

  • Cakes, cookies, and pies
  • Frozen pizzas and entrees
  • Reconstituted meats, like hot dogs
  • Salty snacks, such as crackers
  • Soft drinks
  • Sugary cereals
  • White breads
  • Instant soup

Two recent studies published in the medical journal BMJ tracked consumption of ultraprocessed foods and their health effects. One found a 12 percent jump in heart attack risk for every 10 percent increase in the amount of ultraprocessed food consumed.

The second study reported that participants whose diets contained the highest amounts of ultraprocessed foods had a 62 percent increased risk for premature death. Cancer was the most common cause.

Both studies accounted for gender, age, physical activity, body mass index and smoking history.

Eat this, not that

Diet plays an important role in our overall health. Eating high-sodium foods, for example, can contribute to developing hypertension. Likewise, eating high-fat foods like pizza, fried chicken, and butter, can clog the arteries and lead to restricted blood flow and atherosclerosis.

So what should you eat?

A Mediterranean-style diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish and poultry can help you shed unwanted pounds and maintain a healthy weight.

I also recommend sticking to organic meats and vegetables, which aren’t genetically modified and don’t have added hormones.

Certainly you can have a treat once in a while, but you shouldn’t eat too many foods designed to last on a shelf for years.

Ready to change your life?

Virtua can help you get there. Call 844-932-8444 to schedule an appointment with a Virtua Health registered dietitian who can help you create a personalized healthy eating plan.

Updated January 13, 2022


Request an Appointment 

To make an appointment with a Virtua Heart Specialist, call: 844-932-8444


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