'Take Care of Your Heart: Tips to Reduce Ultra-Processed Food'

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'Take Care of Your Heart: Tips to Reduce Ultra-Processed Food'

The modern diet is filled with ultra-processed food products (UPPs), which are foods that contain preservatives, colors, flavors, emulsifiers, and artificial sweeteners.

Included in this category are soft drinks, ice cream, hot dogs, corned beef, meatloaf, sausages, instant noodles, and yes, even breakfast cereals.

The problem with continuous consumption of unhealthy UPPs is that it has a direct and negative effect on the heart. In simple terms, UPPs "hurt the heart," warned the Healthy Philippines Alliance (HPA), a network of civil society organizations working to prevent and control non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

The HPA cited a multinational study, published in The Lancet Regional Health-Europe in 2023. The study found that high consumption of UPPs is associated with a higher risk of developing multi-morbidity, or a combination of cancer and cardio-metabolic diseases (including heart disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and kidney disease).

The study involved over 266,000 men and women from seven European countries who consumed UPPs that constituted half of their daily intake. These individuals come from seven European countries, so the study covers a broad scope and the result is highly reliable.

So how do we protect our hearts in such a situation?

1. Adopt a healthier diet. "One way to show extra love and care for our hearts is to reduce our consumption of UPPs to save ourselves from cardiovascular diseases. Replace UPPs with healthier choices like fresh fruits, vegetables, and home-cooked meals. A healthier diet will, in the long run, also save us from the economic burden of healthcare costs," said Dr. Jaime Galvez Tan, former Health Secretary and convener of the HPA.

2. Implement front-of-pack labeling on food items. UPPs often contain high levels of sugar, sodium, and fats, which are critical nutrients for NCDs such as cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, the HPA echoes the World Health Organization (WHO)'s recommendation for governments to implement nutrition labeling such as front-of-pack labeling (FOPL) as one of the "best buys" interventions to reduce unhealthy diets and lower the intake of sugar, sodium, and fats.

3. Monitor blood pressure. The HPA encourages Filipinos, even those below age 40, who regularly consume UPPs, to monitor their blood pressure and check for hypertension, as many may be unaware.

Hypertension is a common risk factor for the development of cardiovascular diseases. In fact, the prevalence of hypertension among Filipinos increased from 22% in the 1990s to 37% in 2021, according to the PRESYON 4 study by the Council for Hypertension of the Philippine Heart Association.

Currently, the WHO Country Profile on NCDs for the Philippines ranks cardiovascular diseases as the top cause of death nationwide, killing about 250,000 Filipinos every year.

So be good to your heart. Reduce UPP consumption or remove it from your diet for the well-being of your heart.

Related: 'Gabay sa Malusog na Pamumuhay: Kalusugan at Kaginhawaan para sa mga Pilipino'