Eating highly processed foods may raise your risk of being diagnosed with a fatal form of cancer, according to a large new study from Imperial College London.
These so-called “ultra-processed” foods, which are typically high in salt, fat and sugar and contain artificial additives, include:
- Soft drinks
- Mass-produced packaged breads
- Many ready-to-eat meals
- Most breakfast cereals
- Sweet or savory packaged snacks
Researchers examined UK Biobank records containing information on the diets of 200,000 middle-aged adults over a decade. The UK Biobank is a biomedical database with detailed genetic and health information from research participants in the United Kingdom.
According to a summary of the new study findings:
“The study found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a greater risk of developing cancer overall, and specifically with ovarian and brain cancers. It was also associated with an increased risk of dying from cancer, most notably with ovarian and breast cancers.”
For each 10% increase in ultra-processed food in a person’s diet, there was a 2% increased incidence of cancer overall and a 19% higher incidence of ovarian cancer.
In addition, a 10% increase in ultra-processed food consumption was associated with a:
- 6% increase in overall cancer deaths
- 16% increase in breast cancer deaths
- 30% increase in ovarian cancer deaths
While the study authors note that the study does not prove causation, they also emphasize that previous research has found that cutting back on ultra-processed foods provides health benefits to the body.
In the summary of the study’s findings, Dr. Kiara Chang, first author of the study, notes that the average person in the UK gets more than half of their daily energy intake from highly processed foods. She says:
“Our bodies may not react the same way to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives as they do to fresh and nutritious minimally processed foods.”
She recommends that ultra-processed foods should have labels warning of their potential danger, and also suggests that “minimally processed and freshly prepared meals” should be subsidized to ensure everyone has access to them.
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