Eating more processed food raises cancer risk

Eating more processed food raises cancer risk

Eating large amounts of "ultra-processed" foods may increase a person's risk of developing cancer, a new study suggests.

Being overweight is the biggest preventable cause of the disease after smoking and the World Health Organization says processed meat does slightly increase the risk of cancer.

A study published by The BMJ reports a possible association between intake of highly processed ("ultra-processed") food in the diet and cancer.

"Although this research is intriguing and will add to existing evidence on how diet may impact breast cancer risk, it's far from conclusive". Incidences of cancer were identified from participants' and the declarations were validated by medical records and national databases over an average of five years.

The results, in the British Medical Journal, showed that if the proportion of ultra-processed food in the diet increased by 10%, then the number of cancers detected increased by 12%.

McCullough strategic director of nutritional epidemiology at the American Cancer Society said, "This study doesn't mean that people should think 'if I eat this cracker, I'm going to get cancer, '" "The overriding message of this study was really to look at an overall diet pattern rather than a specific ingredient, and it supports a lot of what we already know".

No significant link was found for colorectal or prostate cancer.

The authors said: "To our knowledge, this study is the first to investigate and highlight and increase in the risk of overall - and specifically breast - cancer associated with ultra-processed food intake".

However, they determined the findings need to "be confirmed by other large-scale" studies and research was needed to establish what could be behind the link.

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Talking to the BBC, professor Tom Sanders, head of the diabetes and nutritional sciences division at King's College London, said the definition of ultra-processes was problematic. "Ultra-processed sugary products were associated with an increased risk of breast cancer".

A few studies have linked ultra-processed foods to higher risks of obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Policies targeting product reformulation, taxation and marketing restrictions on ultra-processed products and promotion of fresh or minimally processed foods may contribute to primary cancer prevention, the researchers suggested.

However, no significant association was found between less processed foods such as canned vegetables, cheeses and freshly made unpackaged bread and risk of cancer.

But he criticised the vagueness of the term ultra-processed.

'Most of the compounds are probably safe, but some of these substances are of concern regarding cancer risk'. "Eat real food and try to limit ultra processed items", Touvier said.

They said the study was simply "an initial insight".

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