Study links 'ultra-processed' foods to type 2 diabetes risk

Risk increases as consumption of dietary sugars, salt, saturated fats grows.

By Brian P. Dunleavy
A new study linked consumption of "ultra-processed" foods with type 2 diabetes risk. Photo by Mabel Amber/Pixabay
A new study linked consumption of "ultra-processed" foods with type 2 diabetes risk. Photo by Mabel Amber/Pixabay

Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Some 60 percent of the calories Americans consume in their daily diets come from "ultra-processed" foods -- like soft drinks, sugary or salty snacks and mass-produced packaged breads.

A study published Monday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, suggests that a person's risk for type 2 diabetes increases with each morsel of these foods they eat. In essence, the researchers noted a 5 percent increase in type 2 diabetes risk for every 100 grams -- or less than half a cup -- of ultra-processed food consumed.


This increased risk applies "even among people who have nutritionally healthy diets, or diets low in sugar, salt, energy and saturated fats," study-co-author Bernard Srour, a post-doctoral candidate with the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team at the University of Paris, told UPI. "A healthy diet nutritionally can also contain high amounts of ultra-processed foods, such as artificially sweetened beverages, vegetarian soy steaks, breakfast cereal bars with colorants and sweeteners or instant powdered soup."


The association between consumption of these foods and type 2 diabetes risk found in the study "was independent of body mass index or weight change, he added.

More than 30 million Americans have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and poor diet is among the risk factors for the condition.

Generally, ultra-processed foods are sold as "ready-to-consume" products -- in packages or cans -- that contain salt, sugar, oils, fats, modified starches, hydrogenated oils, protein isolates and other additives, including artificial coloring and flavoring, designed to enhance their taste. In a separate study published in November, found that certain combinations of these ingredients create "hyper-palatable" foods, or foods that are difficult to stop eating.

Srour and his colleagues reviewed the dietary intake of more than 100,000 French adults over a 10-year period. The participants were part of the French NutriNet study, which recorded their usual consumption of more than 3,500 food items.

Notably, about 70 percent of the study participants had a body mass index of less than 25, which suggests that many of them were not overweight or obese. More than 800 of the subjects were diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during the study period.


Ultra-processed foods accounted for a mean 17 percent of the total diet of the study participants. Mean daily consumption of common ingredients of ultra-processed food, like sugar, saturated fats and sodium, per 1,000 calories consumed, was 50 grams, 18 grams and 1,500 grams, respectively.

Overall, the authors found that study participants' risk for type 2 diabetes increased 15 percent for every 10 percentage point increase in ultra-processed foods consumed, irrespective of their weight or whether or not they gained or lost weight over the course of the study, according to co-author Mathilde Touvier, head of the Nutritional Epidemiology Research Team at the University of Paris.

"Since we observed these associations within French participants who have relatively healthier dietary habits than Americans, we can even suppose that these associations would be stronger in Americans," she said. "We advise people who are worried about their type 2 diabetes to limit their consumption of ultra-processed foods and prioritize unprocessed or minimally processed foods in addition to a nutritionally healthy diet, an optimal BMI and healthy lifestyle behaviors."

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