Highly Processed Foods Tied to Higher Cancer Risk
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. 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. The list also included 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.
Exactly what it is about these foods or their packaging that might increase cancer risk isn’t yet known. “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, a biostatistician in the unit of nutritional epidemiology of the University of Paris. Breast cancer, in particular, was associated with greater consumption of mass-produced, ultra-processed foods, according to the study.
“Studies are needed to understand the impact of different dimensions of food processing,” Srour said. These should look at nutritional composition and different additives and contaminants, he added.
The new report was published online Feb. 14 in the BMJ.