Ultra-processed food is associated with features of metabolic syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Liver Int. 2021 Nov;41(11):2635-2645. doi: 10.1111/liv.14996. Epub 2021 Jul 14.


Background & aims: High consumption of ultra-processed food (UPF) is associated with mortality and chronic morbidity but has not been studied concerning to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). We aimed to test the association of UPF consumption with metabolic syndrome, NAFLD and related-liver damage.

Methods: A cross-sectional study among volunteers who underwent abdominal ultrasound (AUS), anthropometrics, blood pressure measurements, and fasting blood tests including FibroMax for non-invasive assessment of NASH and significant fibrosis. A food-frequency questionnaire was used to evaluate UPF consumption using the NOVA classification.

Results: A total of 789 subjects were included in the total sample (mean age 58.83 ± 6.58 years, 52.60% men), a reliable FibroMax test was obtained from 714 subjects, 305 subjects were diagnosed with NAFLD. High consumption of UPF was associated with higher odds for metabolic syndrome (OR = 1.88, 95% CI 1.31-2.71, P = .001) and its components; hypertension, hypertriglyceridemia, and low HDL, among the entire sample (OR = 1.53, 1.07-2.19, P = .026; OR = 1.51, 1.08-2.11, P = .017; OR = 1.55, 1.05-2.29, P = .028). In addition, it was associated with higher odds for NASH and hypertension (OR = 1.89, 1.07-3.38, P = .030; OR = 2.26, 1.20-4.26, P = .012 respectively) among subjects with NAFLD. Stratification by smoking status revealed an association between high UPF consumption and significant fibrosis among ever smokers in the entire sample and among subjects with NAFLD (OR = 1.89, 95% CI 1.03-3.45, P = .039; OR = 2.85, 1.14-7.14, P = .026 respectively).

Conclusions: High UPF consumption is associated with metabolic syndrome in the general population, and among those with NAFLD it is associated with NASH marker. Ever-smoking may act synergistically with UPF to amplify the risk for fibrosis.

Keywords: liver damage; metabolic syndrome; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; smoking; ultra-processed food.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension*
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome* / epidemiology
  • Metabolic Syndrome* / etiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / epidemiology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease* / etiology
  • Ultrasonography