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Packaged foods like chips, cookies, and soda were shown to have a negative impact on heart health. Getty Images
  • A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed a link between consuming ultra-processed foods and a decrease in heart health.
  • The study was based on patient interviews with 13,446 adults who reported what they ate during the previous 24 hours.
  • Americans currently get 50 percent of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods.
  • Packaged chips, cookies, and sodas are all considered ultra-processed.
  • This type of food generally lacks the fiber and nutrients of whole, unprocessed foods.

It’s common knowledge that foods like potato chips and cookies aren’t good for you, but a new study may force you to put down the bag and take that news to heart.

Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that ultra-processed foods like soda and packaged salty snacks can negatively affect your cardiovascular health.

Researchers reviewed the results from 13,446 adults, 20 years of age and older, who completed a 24-hour dietary recall and answered questions about their cardiovascular health.

It was called the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), which was collected between 2011 and 2016.

The study’s findings will be presented next week at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2019 meeting in Philadelphia.

The research hasn’t been published yet in a peer-reviewed journal.

In the study, the researchers found that for every 5 percent increase in calories from ultra-processed foods a person ate, there was a corresponding decrease in overall cardiovascular health.

Additionally, researchers found that adults who consumed approximately 70 percent of their calories from ultra-processed foods were half as likely to have “ideal” cardiovascular health, compared with people who ate 40 percent or less of their calories from ultra-processed foods.

The offending foods may be some of your favorites — ones made entirely or mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, hydrogenated fats, added sugar, modified starch, and other compounds.

They contain artificial flavors, colors, or emulsifiers.

The CDC said ultra-processed foods account for more than half of an average American’s daily calories.

Soft drinks, packaged salty snacks, cookies, cakes, and chicken nuggets are some examples.

“Healthy diets play an important role in maintaining a healthy heart and blood vessels,” Zefeng Zhang, MD, PhD, an epidemiologist at the CDC, said in a press release. “Eating ultra-processed foods often displaces healthier foods that are rich in nutrients, like fruit, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, which are strongly linked to good heart health.”

To define heart health, the researchers used the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7, a measure of seven important risk factors: healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels, avoidance of tobacco products, good nutrition, healthy body weight, and adequate physical activity.

Experts note that studies based on food diaries and interviews have limitations.

“Studies like this one can only supply clues about whether ultra-processed foods increase the risk of heart attacks or strokes, or other cardiovascular disease,” Bonnie F. Liebman, MS, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told Healthline.

“We need more studies that actually feed people ultra-processed foods to see if they raise blood pressure, cholesterol, or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” she said.

Liebman says only one such study has been done before, referring to a study released by researchers at the NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).

“It found that people ate more calories — and gained weight — when they were fed ultra-processed foods instead of unprocessed foods,” she said.

Lauri Wright, PhD, RDN, LD, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told Healthline she wasn’t surprised by the findings.

As the consumption of ultra-processed foods go up, cardiac health goes down “because ultra-processed foods are typically low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals while being high in salt, added sugar, and fat,” she explained.

This new research adds to the mounting evidence against ultra-processed foods, says Dr. Barbara Davis, a registered dietitian and head of clinical and regulatory sciences at PLT Health Solutions, a food and dietary ingredient company.

“In 2012, a study in Canada also showed the negative effects of ultra-processed food on human health — not only do people eat more and gain weight, but they don’t meet their nutrient requirements,” Davis said. “So, essentially, we have a growing number of overweight and obese people who are malnourished!”

If you’re thinking about doing your body good and quitting ultra-processed snacks cold turkey, slow your roll. You may just want to think smarter about what you’re eating.

“I know that we all have hectic schedules, so processed food is a fact of life,” Davis told Healthline. “The key is moderation and being smart about using processed foods alongside healthy whole foods — lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains. With this strategy, you can feed your family the foods they enjoy while maximizing their intake of the nutrients they need.”

Also try taking ownership of your meals.

“Aim to do more food prep and cooking at home,” Wright added. “Base your meals on whole foods, including vegetables, beans, and whole grains.”