Study findings suggest that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods may be associated with an increased risk of cancer as well as cancer-related death.
Researchers have provided a wide-ranging assessment of the relationship between the consumption of highly processed foods and the risk of cancer. Ultra-processed foods are products that have been highly processed during production, including most breakfast cereals, many ready-to-eat meals, mass-produced packaged bread, and carbonated beverages.
These types of foods are generally convenient, relatively inexpensive, and aggressively marketed, often as a healthy choice. These foods, however, usually contain more sugar, fat, salt and are full of artificial additives. These foods are now known to be associated with a number of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity.
The study used data from the UK Biobank to collect information on the diets of 200,000 middle-aged people. The researchers tracked the individuals’ health over a 10-year period, examining the overall risk of any cancer along with the specific risk of 34 different types of cancer. The risk of cancer-related death was also discussed.
Researchers have found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with an overall increased risk of cancer, particularly brain and ovarian cancer. It is also associated with an increased risk of cancer-related death, particularly breast and ovarian cancer.
For every 10% of ultra-processed foods in an individual’s diet, there was a 2% increase in overall cancer and a 19% specific increase in ovarian cancer.
Each 10% increase in consumption of ultra-processed foods was also associated with a 6% increase in overall cancer mortality, a 30% increase in ovarian cancer and a 16% increase in breast cancer.
These associations remained after adjustments were made for a range of behavioral socioeconomic and dietary factors, including BMI, physical activity, and smoking status.
Although the study could not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, the available evidence suggests that reducing highly processed foods in the diet can provide significant health benefits.
The research is observational, so there is no causal link between the consumption of highly processed foods and cancer.
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