9 Foods That Might Take Years Off Your Life

Soda, deli meat, and alcohol are just a few offenders.

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Sugary drinks

People with a soda habit should start looking for alternative beverages, suggests research presented at a recent American Heart Association meeting: Sugary drinks seem to increase the risk of an early death. The study shows that adults guzzling 24 ounces of sugary drinks a day had double the risk of dying from coronary artery disease compared to people who drank the least (less than an ounce a day). Another study found that drinking soda each day also impacts cellular aging—and may cut more than four and a half years off your life, Medical Daily reports.

Cup of coffee with sugar on wooden table

Artificial sweeteners

While researchers haven’t figured out how many years artificial sweeteners can shave off your life, they do know that these fake sugars raise your risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. In fact, artificial sweeteners may exacerbate the negative effects of regular sugar, according to research published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. Another study suggests that people who down a lot of artificial sweeteners have a higher risk of stroke and dementia, reports the Guardian. Here are 10 other foods to avoid if you want to live a longer life.

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Salty foods

Step away from the shaker, if you plan on living a long and healthy life. Although some salt intake is OK, most Americans are consuming far too much: Eating too much sodium increases your risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and stomach cancer. Eating too much salt can also speed up the aging process on a cellular level, according to Business Insider. Here’s potentially good news: Only 11 percent of the sodium in the American diet actually comes from the shaker—more than 70 percent comes directly from packaged foods. Eat fewer processed foods and your sodium intake will plummet.

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Processed junk food

While any food that manufacturers can, freeze, or prepare before shipping is considered processed, the pre-packaged meals, snacks, and sweets fall into the “ultra-processed” category—and researchers linked those foods to an elevated risk of cancer in a study of more than 100,000 adults, reports Business Insider. The majority of the products were sugary junk foods. In the study, people who consumed more processed foods were more likely to develop various cancers—no matter their gender, exercise habits, age, or smoking status. Here are 9 everyday habits you don’t realize could shorten your life.

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Processed meats

Bacon, sausages, hot dogs, and deli meat are examples of ultra-processed food, and they’re also linked to an increased risk of early death, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. The research, involving more than half a million people, found that people who ate the most ultra-processed meat had a 72 percent increased risk of dying from heart disease and an 11 percent increased risk of dying from cancer.

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Low-carb diets

Despite all the bad press, carbohydrates still do some good—like possibly extending your life: According to research published in the Lancet Public Health journal, a low-carb diet might shorten your lifespan by as much as four years. The study analyzed the carb content in the diets of more than 15,000 Americans, and then it compared the results to other studies involving 432,000 people. The study authors report that people who ate a moderate amount of carbs lived four years longer on average than those who ate low-carb, and one year longer than those who ate a lot of carbs. These are the 13 lifesaving tests you probably skip, but shouldn’t.

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This one is confusing: Some research suggests that a drink a day could be good for you. The problem is that much more than a drink can be deadly—and even that one drink a day could rob you of time, CNN reports. Researchers looking at the drinking habits of more than 600,000 drinkers across 19 countries found that drinking as little as 100 grams of alcohol per week—that’s about a drink a day, one beer, glass of wine, or shot of hard liquor—may shave six months off your lifespan. Downing two to three drinks a day—200 to 300 grams a week—could rob you of two years; if you have more than three drinks a day, you could lose up to five years, the study suggests.

Sliced medium rare Roast beef with table knife and fork for meat on dark background
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Cancer-causing foods

Many of the foods that harm your heart on this list can also cause cancer. Alcohol, red and processed meats, as well as heavily barbecued foods are all considered carcinogenic. Charring meats at high temperatures create cancer-causing substances known as heterocyclic aromatic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; excessive alcohol consumption has been linked with pancreas, ovary, prostate, and stomach cancers.

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Foods high in trans fats

The government may have banned man-made trans fats, but they still turn up in tiny amounts in foods—plus, manufacturers still have some time before they have to stop using them altogether. (Learn more about trans fats.)  The danger is that trans fats raise your risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, according to the American Heart Association. Avoiding foods high in these harmful fats is one of the key tips for living a longer life. Unfortunately, that means fewer cookies, cakes, pies, and pizza. Next, check out these 50 easy habits that help you live longer.

Emily DiNuzzo
Emily DiNuzzo is the former associate editor at The Healthy and a former assistant staff writer at Reader's Digest. Her work has appeared online at the Food Network and Well + Good and in print at Westchester Magazine, and more. When she's not writing about food and health with a cuppa by her side, you can find her lifting heavy things at the gym, listening to murder mystery podcasts, and liking one too many astrology memes.