New research from the Universite Sorbonne Paris Cite, France, suggests there is a substantial link between the consumption of ultra-processed foods and risk of developing cancer.
The researchers classified cakes, confectionery, chicken nuggets, fizzy drinks, and mass-produced bread as ultra-processed foods.
Such foods are thought to account for up to 50% of the total daily energy intake in a number of developed countries.
Evidence of disease risk is still scarce
A few studies have linked ultra-processed foods with increased risks of obesity, high blood pressure, and cholesterol levels; however, firm evidence of its link to disease risk is still scarce.
A team of researchers based in France and Brazil set out to evaluate the potential connections between substantial intakes of foods which are highly processed and the risk of overall cancer, including breast, prostate, and bowel.
Their findings are based on 104,000 healthy French adults (22% men; 78% women) with an average age of 43 years who completed two 24-hour online dietary questionnaires, which measure the usual intake of 3,300 different food items.
The authors of the study wrote: “To our knowledge, this study is the first to investigate and highlight an increase in the risk of overall – and specifically breast – cancer associated with ultra–processed food intake.”
What did the results find?
It was found that a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with increases of 12% in the risk of overall cancer and 11% in the risk of breast cancer.
There was no significant association found for prostate and colorectal cancers.
However, according to a linked editorial by Martin Lajous and Adriana Monge based at the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, while this study provides an initial insight into the link, “we are a long way from understanding the full implications of food processing for health and wellbeing”.
The authors concluded: “Care should be taken to transmit the strengths and limitations of this latest analysis to the general public and to increase the public’s understanding of the complexity associated with nutritional research in free living populations.”
What else is classified as ultra-processed food?
• Frozen or ready meals;
• Meatballs, poultry, and fish nuggets; and
• Instant noodles and soups.