Study warns ultra-processed foods significantly increase cancer risk

Does your diet include a lot of processed foods? Source Pexels

Does your diet include a lot of processed foods? Source Pexels

The report concludes that rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods "in the next decades" may drive "an increasing burden" of cancer - particularly breast cancer - and other non-communicable diseases.

Examples of ultra-processed food are packaged snacks such as chips, chocolate bars and candies, instant noodles and soups, frozen or shelf-life ready meals, soda and other sweetened drinks, and other food that are mostly made up of fats, oils, and sugar.

New scientific research published this week suggested a link between cancer and "ultra-processed" foods such as cookies, fizzy drinks and sugary cereals, though some experts cautioned against reading too much into the study results.

The Federation of Bakers criticised the research led by a team at Université Sorbonne Paris Cité, saying wrapped breads in France were "very different from those in the UK".

What are ultra-processed foods?

"Ultra-processed" food - any product involving an industrial procedure - now makes up half of our diet. The foods also tend to contain high levels of sugar, fat and salt.

Well, for this study it was based on "the nature, extent, and goal of the industrial processing".

Although ultra-processed foods were linked to cancers in general, and breast cancer in particular, no association was found with prostate cancer or bowel cancer.

Unprocessed or minimally processed foods in group one include as fresh, dry or frozen fruit and vegetables; packaged grains and pulses; flours made from corn, wheat, rye; pasta; eggs; fresh or frozen meat and fish and milk.

They stress that further work is needed to better understand the effects of the various stages of processing, but suggest policies targeting product reformulation, taxation, and marketing restrictions on ultra-processed products and promotion of fresh or minimally processed foods may contribute to primary cancer prevention.

But she added: 'They all have food additives, they all have compounds formed during the processing and heating of the products, and they have compounds that could come from the packaging itself.

However Dr Ian Johnson, a nutrition researcher at the Quadram Institute Bioscience, in Norwich, said the authors have identified "some rather weak associations, of low statistical significance" between some types of cancer and diet.

According to the study's results, 18 percent of the respondents' diets were composed of ultra-processed food, and that on average, there were 79 cancer cases each year per 10,000 people.

French researchers revealed that people who eat highly processed foods have a higher risk of cancer.

"Eating a balanced diet, avoiding junk food and maintaining a healthy weight are things we can all do to help stack the odds in our favor", she added.

A spokesman for the Food and Drink Federation said: 'Processed food should not be demonised - by working closely with our partners throughout the food supply chain, we can use processing positively to ensure all sectors of society have access to safe, affordable food.

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