December 9, 2022

Ultra-processed foods are linked to cancer and premature death, according to studies

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(CNN) — Eating lots of ultra-processed foods significantly increases the risk of colorectal cancer in men and can lead to heart disease and early death in both men and women, according to two new large-scale studies of people in the United States and Italy published Wednesday in the medical journal British The BMJ.

Ultra-processed foods include pre-packaged soups, sauces, frozen pizza, ready-to-eat meals, and pleasure foods like hot dogs, sausages, French fries, soft drinks, store-bought cookies, cakes, candy, donuts, ice cream, and many more.

“Literally hundreds of studies link ultra-processed foods to obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and overall mortality,” said Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard professor emerita of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and author of many books. on food policy and marketing, including “Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)” from 2015.

“These two studies maintain consistency: ultra-processed foods are unequivocally associated with an increased risk of chronic disease,” said Nestle, who was not involved in either study.

Ultra-processed foods are linked to cancer and premature death, according to studies

A link to cancer

The US study examined the diets of more than 200,000 men and women for up to 28 years and found a link between ultra-processed foods and colorectal cancer (the third most diagnosed cancer in the US) in men but not women.

Processed and ultra-processed meats, such as ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs, beef jerky, and corned beef, have long been associated with an increased risk of bowel cancer in both men and women. according to the World Health Organization, the American Cancer Society and the American Institute for Cancer Research.

The new study, however, found that all types of ultra-processed foods played a role to some degree.

“We found that men in the highest quintile of ultra-processed food consumption, compared with those in the lowest quintile, had a 29% increased risk of developing colorectal cancer,” said co-senior author Fang Fang Zhang, a cancer epidemiologist and chair of the division of nutrition epidemiology and data science at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.

That association held even after the researchers took into account a person’s body mass index or the quality of their diet.

Why didn’t the new study find the same colorectal cancer risk in women?

“The reasons for such a sex difference are still unknown, but may involve the different roles that obesity, sex hormones and metabolic hormones play in men and women,” Zhang said.

Can processed foods cause cancer? 1:52

“Alternatively, women may have chosen ‘healthier’ ultra-processed foods,” said Dr. Robin Mendelsohn, a gastroenterologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, who was not involved in the study.

The study found that eating “higher consumption of ultra-processed dairy products, such as yogurt, was associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer in women,” Zhang said. “Some ultra-processed foods are healthier, like whole foods that have little or no added sugar, and yogurt and dairy products.”

Women had a higher risk of colorectal cancer if they ate more ready-to-eat or heated dishes, such as pizza, he said. However, men were more likely to have a higher risk of bowel cancer if they ate a lot of meat, poultry or prepared seafood products and sugary drinks, Zhang said.

“Americans consume a large percentage of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods: 58% in adults and 67% in children,” he added. “We should consider substituting unprocessed or minimally processed foods for ultra-processed foods in our diet for cancer prevention and prevention of obesity and cardiovascular disease.”

A link to premature death

The second study followed more than 22,000 people for a dozen years in the Molise region of Italy. The study, which began in March 2005, was designed to assess risk factors for cancer, as well as heart and brain disease.

The analysis published in The BMJ compared the role of nutrient-poor foods, such as foods high in sugar and saturated or trans fat, versus ultra-processed foods in the development of chronic disease and premature death. The researchers found that both types of food independently increased the risk of premature death, especially from cardiovascular disease.

However, when the researchers compared the two types of food to see which contributed more, they found that ultra-processed foods were “primary in defining mortality risk,” said first author Marialaura Bonaccio, an epidemiologist in the department of epidemiology and prevention at the IRCCS Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed of Pozzilli, Italy.

In fact, more than 80% of the foods classified by the study guidelines as nutritionally unhealthy were also ultra-processed, Bonaccio said in a statement.

“This suggests that the increased risk of mortality is not due directly (or exclusively) to the poor nutritional quality of some products, but to the fact that these foods are mostly ultra-processed,” added Bonaccio.

not real food

Why are ultra-processed foods so bad for us? For one thing, they are “ready-to-eat or heat-up industrial formulations that are made with ingredients extracted from food or synthesized in labs, with little or no whole foods,” Zhang told CNN.

These overly processed foods are often high in added sugars and salt, low in dietary fiber, and full of chemical additives, such as artificial colors, flavors, or stabilizers.

“While some ultra-processed foods can be considered healthier than others, in general, we recommend that you stay away from ultra-processed foods altogether and focus on healthy unprocessed foods — fruits, vegetables, legumes,” Mendelsohn said.

In 2019, the National Institute of Health (NIH) published the results of a controlled clinical trial that compared a processed and unprocessed diet. The researchers found that those on the ultra-processed diet ate at a faster rate and consumed 500 more calories per day than people who ate unprocessed foods.

“On average, participants gained 0.9 kilograms, or 2 pounds, while on the ultra-processed diet and lost an equivalent amount on the unprocessed diet,” the NIH noted.

“Clearly there is something about ultra-processed foods that makes people eat more without necessarily wanting to or realizing it,” Nestle said.

“The effects of ultra-processed foods are quite clear. The reasons for the effects are not yet known,” Nestle continued. “It would be nice to know why, but until we find out, it’s best to recommend eating ultra-processed foods as little as possible.”



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