It’s pretty common knowledge at this point that processed foods are not good. Less commonly known? Those processed foods may increase your risk of cancer.
As a new study published in the British Medical Journal notes, however, that’s exactly the case: “Ultra-processed foods,” as the study calls them, including instant noodles, microwave meals, sodas, candy, and mass-produced breads, for instance, correlated with an increased risk of cancer.
The study notes:
- Courtesy Paris’ Sorbonne, examined the medical records and dietary habits of 105,000 middle-aged French people and found a 10 percent increase in “ultra-processed foods” correlated with a 12 percent increase in their cancer risk. While this is statistically significant, keep in mind that middle-aged and older individuals are already at a higher risk of cancer.
- Additionally, the study’s researchers noted that the individuals with the highest proportions of ultra-processed foods in their diet were also more likely to exhibit other cancer risk factors, including that they were more likely to smoke, generally had lower levels of education and physical activity, and generally consumed more calories.
As the researchers note, the following counts as ultra-processed:
“…the nature, extent, and purpose of the industrial processing…[including] packaged breads and buns; sweet or savory packaged snacks; industrialized confectionery and desserts; sodas and sweetened drinks; meatballs, poultry and fish nuggets, and other reconstituted meat products; instant noodles and soups; frozen or shelf stable ready meals.”
That’s admittedly a pretty broad definition, but this much is clear: If you didn’t make it yourself, it’s probably not as healthy as it could be. Everyone can agree on that, right?
As botanist and food expert James Wong tweeted,
“That’s the problem with terms like ‘ultra-processed’. It’s a label that tends to be deployed very selectively. Being posh or fashionable somehow gives food a get-out-of-jail card.”
In a follow-up tweet, he noted,
“Other examples of ‘ultra-processed food’ include: Organic, superfood protein bars; Gluten-free, artisanal bread; Vegan, non GMO health shakes…Strange how these are never mentioned by more scandalous reports on the evils of ‘ultra-processed’ food, isn’t it?#Buzzwords”
Clearly, diet plays a role in your health and may affect your risk of cancer. But as Tom Sanders of King’s College (where he is the Professor Emeritus of Nutrition and Dietetics) notes, that often ignores other risk factors that may contribute to your cancer risk.
As he said,
“What people eat is an expression of their lifestyle in general, and may not be causatively linked to the risk of cancer. So it is necessary to rule out what are called confounding factors – things already known to cause cancer such as smoking, obesity, alcohol intake and low intakes of fruit and vegetables…The approach of categorising dietary patterns that depend on industrially processed food in relation to disease risk is novel but probably needs refining before it can be translated into practical dietary advice.”
But what do you think? Is this study enough to change your dietary habits, or do you still need more evidence that eating processed foods isn’t good for you?