A new research has flagged ultra-processed foods for increasing the risk of type-2 diabetes. Among ultra-processed foods are: sugary drinks, packaged snacks, and ready-made meals, foods that generally contain a higher number of additives and last longer because of the added preservatives.
Such foods in the past were linked with conditions such as cancer, obesity, and cardiovascular disease, as well as with a higher risk of premature mortality. Now they are being linked with the surge in the incidence of diabetes. Are ultra-processed foods and type-2 diabetes linked? And if so, how?
This was the thesis that Bernard Srour, Ph.D., of the Epidemiology and Statistics Research Center–University of Paris in France, and his team of researchers set out to unravel. They did so by examining the dietary habits of more than 100,000 people. The results of their analysis appear in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.
Srour and team carried out a population-based prospective cohort study in which they included 104,707 adult participants who had participated in the French NutriNet-Santé study. Of these participants, 21,800 were men, and 82,907 were women.
The NutriNet-Santé study spanned a decade, running from 2009 to 2019. The researchers collected data on the dietary intake of the participants using repeated 24 hour dietary records that asked them about their consumption of about 3,500 different foods.
Using the NOVA classification system (The NOVA classification system groups all foods according to the nature, extent and purposes of the industrial processes they undergo), the researchers classified the 3,500 food items according to their degree of processing. There were four categories: unprocessed/minimally processed foods, culinary ingredients, processed foods, and ultra-processed foods.
The researchers used multivariable Cox proportional hazard models, which they adjusted for the known risk factors for type-2 diabetes, such as sociodemographic background, lifestyle, and medical history.
Srour and colleagues found a consistent association between the absolute amount of ultra-processed food consumption, which they measured in grams per day, and the risk of type-2 diabetes.
“In this large observational prospective study, a higher proportion of [ultra-processed foods] in the diet was associated with a higher risk of [type 2 diabetes],” conclude the authors. Srour and colleagues add: “Even though these results need to be confirmed in other populations and settings, they provide evidence to support efforts by public health authorities to recommend limiting [ultra-processed food] consumption.”