Highly Processed Foods Tied to Higher Cancer Risk

From Drugs.com - February 14, 2018

Highly Processed Foods Tied to Higher Cancer Risk

WEDNESDAY, Feb. 14, 2018 -- If you worry about ever getting cancer, you might want to pass on the processed foods at your supermarket.

Every 10 percent dietary increase in packaged snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals and other highly processed foods boosts the risk for cancer by 12 percent, new research suggests.

Breast cancer, in particular, was associated with greater consumption of mass-produced, ultra-processed foods, according to the study.

While these foods may taste great, they are often loaded with sugar, salt and fat. They also lack vitamins, fiber and other nutritional value.

But nutritional value might not explain the observed heightened cancer risk, the French researchers said.

"Our results suggest that the lower overall nutritional quality of ultra-processed foods is not the only factor involved in this relationship," said lead author Dr. Bernard Srour, of the University of Paris.

Exactly what it is about these foods or their packaging that might increase cancer risk is not yet known, said Srour, a biostatistician in the unit of nutritional epidemiology.

"Studies are needed to understand the impact of different dimensions of food processing," he said. These should look at nutritional composition and different additives and contaminants, he added.

Marjorie Lynn McCullough, strategic director of nutritional epidemiology at the American Cancer Society, is not surprised by the new findings.

"This study supports what we have been recommending for a long time," McCullough said. "This includes eating a mostly plant-based diet rich in vegetables and fruits and eliminating red meat, processed foods and sugars."

In several developed countries, ultra-processed foods may make up as much as 50 percent of the daily diet, the researchers noted.

This includes convenience foods, such as mass-produced baked breads and buns, snacks and cookies -- plus those staples of modern-day childhood, chicken nuggets and fish sticks, Srour said.

Also on the list: instant soups, frozen or ready-to-eat meals, commercially made desserts and products processed with preservatives other than salt -- for example, nitrites.

Many of these items also contain hydrogenated oils, modified starches, colorants, emulsifiers, texturizers, sweeteners and other additives.

The new report was published online Feb. 14 in the BMJ.

The specific risks posed by any or all of these additives are difficult to untangle, experts said.

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