Professor Mark Lawrence, of Deakin University in Australia, told the media: "Policy makers should shift their priorities away from food reformulation - which risks positioning ultra-processed food as a solution to dietary problems - towards a greater emphasis on promoting the availability, affordability, and accessibility of unprocessed or minimally processed foods".
"Ultra-processed foods", such as breakfast cereals, french fries, hamburgers, frozen pizza, sugary drinks and ice cream, were linked to an increased risk of heart disease and early death, according to two major studies published this week.
Separate research on 19,899 Spanish university students, who were also tracked for ten years, discovered that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods - more than four servings per day - was associated with a 62% higher chance of dying compared to eating fewer than two servings a day.
The participants' diets were assessed twice a year using the NOVA classification system, which groups foods into four categories according to the extent and goal of industrial processing involved.
The participants who reported the highest consumption of ultra-processed foods (fourth quarter) had a higher body mass index, the researchers observed, and were more likely than members of the first quarter to be smokers and have a family history of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, prevalent cardiovascular disease, and depression.
The second study, by the University of Paris, followed 105,159 people for five years and assessed their diet twice a year.
Other studies, they noted, have hinted that additives or contaminants formed during food processing have negative effects on metabolism and the cardiovascular system.
Foods were grouped according to degree of processing and rates of disease were measured over a maximum follow-up of 10 years (2009-2018).
It also found out that 340ml glass of soda causes about 6 % increased risk of early death over the same period. Additionally, each incremental 10 per cent increase in ultra-processed intake was correlated with a 12 per cent uptick in disease risk. All-cause mortality relativity increased by 18% with each added serving of ultra-processed food.
Based on the overall body of research, he said, the most heart-healthy diet is one rich in whole foods - particularly plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts. He wrote an editorial published with the studies.
The American Heart Association has more on processed foods.