(Montreal) The consumption of ultra-processed foods seems to increase the risk of suffering from type 2 diabetes, warns a major analysis carried out by a team from Laval University.

The researchers found that every 1% increase in the amount of ultra-processed foods translates to a slightly more than 1% increase in the risk of type 2 diabetes.

Prepared meals and sugary drinks are examples of ultra-processed foods, but Professor Jean-Philippe Drouin-Chartier and his colleagues have found that the risk of type 2 diabetes is higher with certain foods than with others.

“We remain exposed to a food environment where these products are very present,” commented Professor Drouin-Chartier, who is attached to the Faculty of Pharmacy, the NUTRISS Center and the Institute of Nutrition and Functional Foods of the Laval University.

“But when you look at the recommendations of Canada’s Food Guide, […] you see almost only minimally processed or minimally processed foods. According to our data, each food that we eat that is less processed will be favorable to health. »

The Quebec researchers analyzed data from three large American surveys that included nearly 200,000 people. The participants responded, every 2 to 4 years for 30 years, to questionnaires relating to their diet.

The researchers then divided the foods consumed into four categories according to their degree of processing, ranging from minimally or unprocessed to ultra-processed.

They also combined data from the three American surveys with data from four European studies that had examined the same question. The analyzes they performed on this cohort of more than 415,500 participants led to similar conclusions.

The sample size and the strength of the observed relationship between the two variables suggest a causal link, Professor Drouin-Chartier pointed out in a press release.

“We get a verdict of high quality evidence,” he said in an interview. So that suggests that it is very unlikely that future studies on the same subject will contradict our results. »

The risk of people in the top quintile of consumption is 56% higher than that of people in the bottom quintile, the study said. The median consumption of ultra-processed foods was more than ten servings per day in the top quintile.

Taking the analyzes a step further, the researchers found that certain ultra-processed foods seemed to contribute more to the increased risk of diabetes: white breads, sauces, spreads and condiments, sugary drinks, “diet” drinks, cold meats and charcuterie and prepared meals are thus singled out.

Ultra-processed foods are industrial formulations made largely or entirely with substances extracted from foods. These formulations are often chemically modified and include additives to accentuate flavors or extend shelf life.

It is considered that ultra-processed foods represent, in Canada and the United States, approximately one-third of the weight of foods consumed daily by the population.

“The level of food processing is another dimension of healthy eating,” said Professor Drouin-Chartier. This is a theme that is increasingly studied for its effect on health, but also to characterize the food environment in which we live. This brings more arguments to promote public policies that will improve the diet of populations. »

The findings of this study are published by the medical journal Diabetes Care.