Eating chicken nuggets and instant soups could contribute to an early death, a study claims.
Scientists in France who studied a large population of more than 44,500 men and women aged 45 and older uncovered a strong link between eating badly and dying.
Every 10% increase in ultra-processed food consumption was associated with a 14% greater risk of death from any cause.
Participants provided information about their eating habits, lifestyle, and socio-economic background before having their progress monitored for seven years.
Ultra-processed food was defined as food manufactured through multiple industrial processes and mostly consumed in the form of snacks, desserts or ready-to-eat or heat meals, such as chicken nuggets, instant noodle soup meals, and preserved meats.
During the follow-up period researchers recorded 602 deaths – 1.4% of the total group. These included 219 deaths caused by cancer and 34 by heart and artery disease.
Scientists, led by Dr Laure Schnabel from Paris-Sorbonne University, wrote in the journal Jama Internal Medicine: “An increase in ultra-processed foods consumption appears to be associated with an overall higher mortality risk among this adult population.
“Further prospective studies are needed to confirm these findings and to disentangle the various mechanisms by which ultra-processed foods may affect health.”
Consumption of ready meals and other forms of ultra-processed food accounted for an average 29% of total calorie intake, the study found.
It was also associated with younger age, poorer education, living alone, lower physical activity and higher body weight.
Some ultra-processed foods contained large amounts of salt, and little fiber, and high sodium intake had been associated with higher rates of cardiovascular disease death and stomach cancer.
Excessive sugar in the diet was also linked to a greater risk of cardiovascular disease death.
Food additives, frequently found in ultra-processed foods, may also play a role, said the researchers.
For instance, titanium dioxide was widely used by the food industry but had been linked to intestinal inflammation and cancer.
British statistician Professor Kevin McConway, from the Open University, warned that the French findings may not necessarily apply to the UK.
He said: “People’s diets in the UK are, on average, very different from those in France. In the UK we (on average) eat far more in the way of foods classified as ultra-processed, but we also probably eat different types of ultra-processed foods, and indeed different types of foods that aren’t ultra-processed.”