Ultra-processed foods and mortality in Brazil

Tempo de Leitura: 3 minutos

Due to the lack of time to eat, the consumption of ultra-processed foods has become frequent. This is one of the aggravating factors for the increase in the number of deaths per year in Brazil, linked to metabolic health. Still, according to experts, there is a notorious history of wrong priorities in the country, that is, there is greater accessibility to industrialized products and little support for the production of fresh food, especially for small producers.

Ultra-processed foods and consumption data

In this context, ultra-processed foods, which can commonly be nutritionally unbalanced, have a negative impact on health when consumed in an unruly manner. Were responsible for the death of 57,000 people in Brazil, based on 2019 data. In addition, the manufacture and composition of these foods involves several processing steps and techniques and many ingredients, including salt, sugar, oils and fats, and substances of exclusively industrial use. Depending on the amount, they can be harmful to the proper functioning of the body.

Given these data, it is worth mentioning that, according to the Ministry of Health, the consumption of ultra-processed foods:

  • increases the risk of obesity by 26%;
  • increases the risk of overweight by 23%,;
  • raises the risk of metabolic syndrome by 79%;
  • raises the risk of high cholesterol by 102%;
  • raises the risk of cardiovascular disease by 29% to 34%;
  • increases the risk of all-cause mortality by 25%.

Degree of processing and quality

The The Brazilian Association of the Food Industry (Abia) exposes that the quality of food should be defined according to its nutritional composition, and not due to its degree of processing or quantity of ingredients. One of the foundations for the statement involves a study done by 150 French experts in food and nutrition. Briefly, the authors conclude that the classification of food processing currently used does not reflect the intensity of the processes used, which is mainly based on sociocultural aspects than the physical-chemical aspects of processing.

On the other hand, the Food Guide of the Brazilian Population makes it explicit that the basis of the diet should be in natura or minimally processed foods, preferably of vegetable origin. Since, these “are basis for a nutritionally balanced, tasty, culturally appropriate diet and promoter of a socially and environmentally sustainable food system.”

In addition, one more suggestion of the guide is to avoid ultra-processed foods, because the main ingredients of these foods bring a nutritional composition usually rich in fats and or sugars and often simultaneously rich in fats and sugars.. In addition, it is common to have high additions of salt, additives and other substances that aim for greater flavor and shelf life.

Ultra-processed: public support and price

Although overturned by the Federal Supreme Court (STF), an example of public support for the sector was the decree of the year 2022 that zeroed the Tax on Industrialized Products for extracts and concentrates used in the production of soft drinks.

In addition, data shows that the price of fresh foods in the year 2022 rose more than processed and ultra-processed foods. For example, the inflation of onion and apple, in relation to the same period of the previous year, had an increase of 114.66% and 57.53%, respectively. While, the largest increases between processed and ultra-processed were in mayonnaise with 32.25% and instant noodles with 19.73%. In this regard, according to an economist from FGV, one way to discourage this consumption is through taxation of the products in question.

Clinical Practice on Ultra-Processed Foods

The preference for ultra-processed food to a fresh food can be the result of cultural action, as well as the lack of time, which can be explained by practicality, that is, it is not necessary to pre-prepare and cook. On the other hand, this frequent consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with a higher incidence of chronic non-communicable diseases, such as obesity.

In this context, the role of the health professional, especially the nutritionist, is to present ways to face this complex problem. As an example, bringing the topic of nutrition into schools, as well as equipping the population with the necessary knowledge to identify ultra-processed products, such as by the proper interpretation of nutrition labels. Learn more about: Buffalo Cheese Label, Plant-Based Meat Or 100% Beef and Golden.

Bibliographic references

Suggested Reading: Ultra-Processed Foods and NCDs: Updates

Ultra-processed and deaths in Brazil: BBC News. “Salgadinho is cheaper than fruit”: subsidized in Brazil, ultra-processed cause 57,000 deaths in the country, says study – BBC News Brazil. BBC News Brazil. Published March 3, 2023. Accessed March 6, 2023. https://www.bbc.com/portuguese/brasil-63881335

Risk of ultra-processed food consumption
: Ministry of Health. What is the relationship between ultra-processed food consumption and mortality risk? Ministry of Health. Published June 7, 2022.

Food Guide. Brazil. Ministry of Health. Food Guide for the Brazilian Population. Ministry of Health, Brasília, 2014.156p.

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