• “If you’re interested in living longer or to your maximal potential, you’d be wise to avoid a diet filled with ultra-processed foods and replace them with less processed or unprocessed foods. At the same time, avoid eating a lot of red meat. It’s as simple as that.”—Gary Fraser, LLUH study author.
    • Animal-based food consumption (meat, dairy, eggs) was not associated with mortality; only higher red meat intake was, according to LLUH study.
    • The proportion of ultra-processed foods in someone’s diet is actually more important than the proportion of animal-derived foods they eat, except when it comes to red meat.

25 May 2022 | From a Loma Linda University Health Press Release:

Put the can of veggie meat down and back slowly away.

According to a recently published study by Loma Linda University Health researchers, greater consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with higher all-cause mortality, even in a health-conscious Adventist population with many vegetarians. Examples of ultra-processed foods include soft drinks, certain meat analogs, and candy.

The study, “Ultra-processed food intake and animal-based food intake and mortality in the Adventist health study-2,” was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

“Our study addresses the question of what can make a vegetarian diet healthy or unhealthy,” said Gary Fraser, MBChB, PhD, a study author, and professor at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and School of Public Health. “It seems that the proportion of ultra-processed foods in someone’s diet is actually more important with respect to mortality than the proportion of animal-derived foods they eat, the exception being red meat.”

Researchers found a statistically significant 8% increase in the mortality risk associated with moderate (approximately 1½ oz per day) consumption of red meat compared to no red meat. However, that mortality risk percentage is still lower than the one associated with those whose diets are high in ultra-processed foods. People who obtained 50% of their total calories from ultra-processed foods faced a 14% increase in mortality compared to people who received only 12.5% of their total calories from ultra-processed foods.

Notably, animal-based food consumption (meat, dairy, eggs) was not associated with mortality; only higher red meat intake was, according to the study.

Compared to past research that analyzed ultra-processed and animal-based foods’ health impacts, this study included one of the largest groups of participants, with more than 77,000 people. It also considered a diverse array of diets, including vegetarian and non-vegetarian. As a result, outcomes provided new insights about ultra-processed foods as a common denominator of mortality across vegetarians and non-vegetarians.

The study exposed how it is possible to be a “bad vegetarian or a good non-vegetarian” because it isolates the health impacts of processed foods in the diet—whether it’s vegetarian or not, said Fraser.

Study authors reported that high consumption levels of ultra-processed foods were associated with mortality related to respiratory, neurologic, and renal conditions—particularly Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (even when restricted to people who never smoked). However, high ultra-processed food consumption was not associated with mortality from cardiovascular disease, cancer, or endocrine conditions.

Such findings of ultra-processed food consumption and mortality provide a “helpful confirmation of what people expected,” Fraser said.

“If you’re interested in living longer or to your maximal potential, you’d be wise to avoid a diet filled with ultra-processed foods and replace them with less processed or unprocessed foods,” Fraser said. “At the same time, avoid eating a lot of red meat. It’s as simple as that.”

This article has been edited by AT staff.


(Photo: A man grills meat on a barbecue in this undated image. An LLUH study found that animal-based food consumption (meat, dairy, eggs) was not associated with mortality, only higher red meat intake was. Image by Gundula Vogel from Pixabay.) 

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