Scientists have conducted a review of the impact of artificial additives in items such as bread, soup, yoghurt and cereal, considered to be ultra-processed foods.
These staple meals and snacks were found to be creating a ticking timebomb. Eating them makes people 24 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke.
Ultra-processed foods make up 60 percent of the average UK diet, it was said. It has led a former government food expert to call for a return to home-cooked meals.
Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of healthy food chain Leon, said: “This should be a wake-up call. If there is something inherent in the processing of foods that is harmful, then that is a disaster.
There needs to be much more research to find out why these foods are killing us. Once you know what the mechanism is for the harm, then you can regulate for it.”
Mr Dimbleby was commissioned by the Tories to conduct an independent review of the food system.
However, he resigned from his government role in March after he said ministers refused to enact his recommendations to expand free school meals, impose a salt and sugar tax and introduce GP prescriptions for fruit and veg.
He added: “Britain is particularly bad for ultra-processed food. “It is storing up problems for the future. If we do nothing, a tidal wave of harm is going to hit the NHS.
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“At the same time, all these people are out of work as a result of diet-related illness. So we will end up with a sick and impoverished country.
“We need a shift in our cooking habits to eat more food cooked from scratch, with more vegetables and fibre. That is really hard in practice, it requires a huge cultural shift.
“Diet-related illness is the highest cause of non-communicable disease. It is the biggest drag on our economy with people out of work.”
The findings came in a review of 10 studies involving 325,000 people presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Amsterdam.
It was revealed that Britons consume a greater proportion of ultra-processsed foods than any nation in the world, apart from the US.
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For one in five, such staples make up 80 percent of what they eat. However, most have no idea what this food category includes.
These foods have gone through multiple manufacturing processes and are often high in salt and sugar. Often the foods are low in fibre and lack the nutrients present in fresh and minimally processed foods, like fresh fruit and vegetables.
A Department of Health spokesman said: “We have introduced legislation to restrict the placement and promotion of certain products in supermarkets to discourage unhealthy food choices.
“Thanks to our salt reduction programme, the amount of salt in food has fallen by around 20percent , preventing nearly 70,000 heart attacks and strokes. Our Soft Drinks Industry Levy has also nearly halved the amount of sugar in soft drinks.”
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