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Recent Studies Bring Bad News to Fans of “Ultraprocessed” Foods and Diet Drinks

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Staying healthy at every stage of life is critically important, especially if we want to live out our days with energy and vitality. The best way to avoid becoming a burden to those we love is to stay as healthy as we can, as long as we can. With that goal in mind, we offer a pair of recent CNN articles as evidence that what you eat – and what you drink – makes a big difference in living a life of vigor and wellness.

Ultraprocessed Foods May Shorten Your Life

The first CNN article appeared online in mid-February and was picked up by several national publications. It quoted a study from the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine warning that eating what are referred to as “ultraprocessed” foods may actually shorten your life. Boosting the amount of these unhealthy foods in your diet by 10 percent, says the study, can increase your likelihood of death from all causes by 14 percent, a rise that researchers call significant.  The CNN report was quick to acknowledge that “eating a lot of ultraprocessed foods could be a marker for other unhealthy habits, such as lack of exercise or smoking,” and these habits could have affected the findings, although scientists conducting the study claim they factored these elements into their conclusions.

This brings up the obvious question: what exactly does it mean when we say foods are ultraprocessed?  Nutritionists have the answer. According to CNN, foods that are minimally processed retain most of their nutritional value and their physical properties. Minimally processed foods run the gamut from pre-cut fruits and vegetables and bagged salads to roasted nuts. Other foods are minimally processed to help preserve and enhance their freshness and nutritional value, such as canned or frozen fruits, vegetables, beans and tomatoes. Most cereals, crackers, nut butters, yogurt and fortified milk are considered minimally processed. All these, so long as they don’t contain too much sugar and fats, are generally thought to be healthful and nutritious parts of a good diet.

Ultraprocessed Foods: Additives You Don’t Want

Ultraprocessed foods are a different story, and here is where the health problem lies. These foods, says the article, “are formulations of salt, sugar, oils and fats, as well as flavors, colors and other additives and are mostly consumed in the form of snacks, desserts, and ready-to-eat and -heat meals.” The CNN report calls these foods “industrial formulations that typically contain five or more ingredients, and may contain, for example, hydrogenated oils, dyes or flavor enhancers.” (We are always leery of food labels that sound like the contents came out of a chemistry lab, not a kitchen.) The article lists a few ultraprocessed foods to avoid, or to consume only in moderation, including this partial list:

  • Sweet or savory packaged snacks
  • Ice cream
  • Margarines and spreads
  • Candies, cookies, pastries and cakes
  • Cereal bars
  • So-called “fruit”-flavored drinks
  • Pre-made pies, pasta and pizza dishes
  • Poultry and fish “nuggets” and “sticks”
  • Sausages, burgers, hot dogs
  • Powdered and packaged “instant” soups, noodles and desserts

CNN says these foods tend to be highly convenient, highly attractive, and highly profitable. Unfortunately, they also tend to draw consumers away from natural foods that are also ready to eat, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, and they make it quick, easy and cheap to avoid preparing your own healthy, home-cooked meals. “This list,” says CNN, “is a reminder of foods that we may be eating a little too much of, especially if we are hoping to live a longer, healthier life.”

Diet Drinks are Not the Answer

So, after “digesting” that report, perhaps you’re thinking that switching to diet soda is the answer. Before you head for the store, you need to consider this second CNN article that appeared just days after the first. “More bad news for diet soda lovers,” says CNN: “Drinking two or more of any kind of artificially sweetened drinks a day is linked to an increased risk of clot-based strokes, heart attacks and early death in women over 50, according to a new study by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association.”  Among the study subjects at highest risk, said the study, were African American women, obese women, and – surprisingly – women with no history whatsoever of heart disease or diabetes. The study tracked 80,000 women for an average of almost 12 years.

Previous studies have linked diet beverage consumption with a whole host of vascular risks and conditions, the article says, including stroke, dementia, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. But despite the clear connection, medical researchers remain stumped as to the underlying cause. “‘What is it about these diet drinks?’ asked lead study author Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx. ‘Is it something about the sweeteners? Are they doing something to our gut health and metabolism? These are questions we need answered.’” Meanwhile, says CNN, “while science continues to explore the connection, Americans are turning more and more to water and other non-calorie beverages.” Bottled water now outsells carbonated soft drinks, although consumers are still drinking plenty of soda – an estimated 12 billion gallons in 2018, of which one-fourth are diet sodas.

Plan for Health, Plan for Retirement

These back-to-back CNN exposes made us realize once again just how important it is for seniors to get solid, professional and objective advice about every aspect of growing older. When it comes to healthy living, you should be consulting regularly with a board-certified geriatrician who understands senior health issues. The need for objective advice also applies in the area of retirement planning. Instead of relying on hearsay or trusting a so-called retirement planner with a product to sell, we encourage you to seek the advice of an experienced professional like Rajiv Nagaich from AgingOptions. Rajiv will show you how all the pieces of your retirement plan need to fit together, just like the pieces of a puzzle: financial, legal, medical, housing and family. The result is a seamless plan called a LifePlan, a blueprint that will guide you as you create the fruitful and secure retirement of your dreams.

Why not invest just a few hours and find out more? Join Rajiv Nagaich at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar – a free session packed with valuable information to show you what a wonderful experience retirement can be. For dates, times and locations, click here – then register online or call us during the week. We’ll look forward to meeting you and answering your retirement questions. Just leave the chicken nuggets at home. Age on!

(originally reported at

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