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Ultraprocessed foods, unprocessed or minimally processed foods, and risk of frailty in a cohort of United States females.

BACKGROUND: Ultraprocessed foods (UPFs) and poor diet quality have been associated with frailty but existing studies had relatively short follow-up time. It is also unclear whether the association of UPF was primarily due to its correlation with poorer diet quality.

OBJECTIVES: We examined the association between unprocessed or minimally processed foods (UMFs) and UPF and risk of frailty and explored whether the association with UPF was mainly driven by poor diet quality.

METHODS: In total, 63,743 nonfrail females aged 60+ y from the Nurses' Health Study (cohort study) were followed up for ≥26 y. Diet was assessed every 4 y by food frequency questionnaires. UPF and UMF intakes were calculated using the Nova classification. Diet quality was estimated using the Alternate Healthy Eating Index (AHEI) 2010. The association of UMF and UPF with risk of frailty was examined using multivariable adjusted Cox proportional hazard model.

RESULTS: During the follow-up period, we recorded 15,187 incident cases of frailty. The hazard ratio (HR) of frailty for the highest compared with the lowest quintile of UMFs (servings per day) was 0.86 (95% CI: 0.83, 0.95; P-trend < 0.001). However, this was no longer statistically significant after adjustment for AHEI-2010. UPFs (servings per day) was directly associated with risk of frailty, even after adjustment for AHEI-2010 (1.31; 95% CI: 1.23, 1.39; P-trend < 0.001). Among those at the highest category of the AHEI-2010, UPFs remained directly associated with frailty (HR comparing top with bottom quintile: 1.40; 95% CI:1.24, 1.57; P-trend < 0.001). For UPF components, we found a higher frailty risk with each serving per day of artificial and sugar-sweetened beverages; fat, spreads, and condiments; yogurt and dairy-based desserts; and other UPFs. However, processed whole grains were not associated with frailty.

CONCLUSIONS: Higher intake of UPF is associated with a higher risk of frailty in older females. This is not explained by a lower diet quality contributed by UPFs.

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