Ultra-processed foods increase ischemia and heart attacks

Consuming ultra-processed foods too often can increase the risk of death from a heart attack, ischemia or stroke – a confirmation of what was already revealed long ago by the founder of Nutriscore.

Consuming ultra-processed foods too often can increase the risk of death from a heart attack, ischemia or stroke in the general population, especially in those who already suffer from cardiovascular diseases. This emerges from a new study by Irccs Neuromed, revealing what was already highlighted by the founder of the Nutriscore labelling system in 2019.

The study published in the European Heart Journal, the scientific journal of the European Society of Cardiology, shows that even those who follow the Mediterranean diet correctly may run the risk of excessive consumption of ultra-processed foods. They are now widespread on the shelves of our supermarkets. In particular, if those who already have cardiovascular disease follow a diet too rich in these hyper-processed foods, they can have an increased risk of two-thirds of incurring a second heart attack or stroke, this time fatal. Moreover, the chance of dying for all causes is 40% higher than those who do not eat them.

The study’s authors followed the diet of 1,171 people suffering from cardiovascular diseases for over ten years within the “Moli-sani” research, focusing on the consumption of hyper-processed foods. These include foods that undergo a series of industrial transformations, such as hydrogenation, hydrolysis, extrusion, moulding, remodelling, pre-processing by frying.

These processes lead to compounds not present in fresh food, altering their structure like hydrolyzed proteins, protein isolates, maltodextrins, oils and hydrogenated fats, sugar and modified starches. The addition of flavouring agents, dyes, preservatives, emulsifiers, humectants, antioxidants, anti-binders, flavour enhancers, sweeteners, and other additives try to imitate different foods’ properties or mask the undesirable qualities of the product.

This category includes sugared and carbonated drinks, pre-packaged bakery products, sweet or savoury packaged snacks, spreads, industrial desserts, instant soups and ready meals. It has unsuspected foods or sold as “healthy”, such as biscuits, breakfast cereals, crackers, fruit yoghurt, plant-based meat substitutes, and veg burgers. The international NOVA classification identifies these foods according to the degree of industrial transformation and the number and type of processes they have undergone for their preparation and storage.

For this reason, the labelling of straightforward nutritional content is no longer sufficient to distinguish healthy food from unhealthy food. It is necessary to know how the food has been prepared and make the consumer aware of the level of industrial processing of that food. The equation “simple food is equivalent to healthy food” is now taking more strength in the light of recent evidence. For this reason, the SIGA-CARE, a system similar to NOVA to detect healthy foods and ultra-processed ones, was presented to French parliamentarians. This system could replace the Nutriscore, full of gaps, as demonstrated with the Italian Nutrinform Battery.

A weak point of the Nutriscore is to promote ultra-processed foods with green colour and to reject natural foods such as olive oil with red colour. In 2019, the creator of Nutriscore, Serge Hercberg, published a study on the danger of hyper-processed foods in causing cancer, cardiovascular, coronary and cerebrovascular diseases. But its Nutriscore system has not distinguished them from healthy foods. For this reason, Hercberg seems to have realized just now the need to integrate the Nutriscore. Then he created the “black label” to ban ultra-processed foods to a healthy diet.

In the light of these results, public health authorities have already begun in several countries to recommend strongly limiting hyper-processed foods consumption and to promote the least processed ones. The advice is to prefer a diet based on fresh and natural products and be wary of imitations.


The "Sustainable Meats" Project aims to identify the key topics, the state of knowledge and the most recent technical scientific trends, with the aim of showing that meat production and consumption can be sustainable, both for health and for the environment.