The most complete investigation that has been carried out to date on the association between ultra-processed foods and the risk of developing cancer suggests that regular consumption of these products may increase the chances of suffering from some type of cancer and dying from it. These foods often contain more salt, fat, and sugar than recommended, as well as artificial additives, which are used to improve their appearance, flavor, or texture, or to extend their shelf life.
Ultra-processed foods, as their name indicates, are those that have undergone a high level of processing during their preparation, such as packaged bread and pastries, soft drinks, many foods that are sold ready-to-eat, and most breakfast cereals, and have been linked to numerous health problems, from obesity and diabetes, to inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, dementia, and premature death.
The new study was carried out by researchers from the Imperial College London School of Public Health, who used UK Biobank records to obtain information about the diets of 200,000 middle-aged individuals, whose health they monitored for 10 years, assessing the risk of developing cancer in general, and the specific risk of developing 34 types of cancer and of dying from this disease. Researchers from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the University of São Paulo and the NOVA University of Lisbon have also collaborated on the work.
For every 10% increase in ultra-processed foods in the diet, there was a 2% increase in incidence for cancer overall, and a 19% increase for ovarian cancer.
The results have been published in eClinicalMedicine and show an association between a higher consumption of ultra-processed foods and a higher risk of developing cancer in general, and especially ovarian cancerand more likely to die from this disease, especially in the case of ovarian and breast tumors. Specifically, it has been found that for every 10% increase in ultra-processed foods in the diet, there was a 2% increase in incidence for cancer overall, and a 19% increase for ovarian cancer.
Every 10% increase in consumption of ultra-processed foods was also associated with a increased mortality from cancer overall by 6%, along with a 16% increase for breast cancer and a 30% increase for ovarian cancer. These associations did not vary after adjusting for other factors that could influence the appearance of neoplasms, such as socioeconomic status, BMI (body mass index), and lifestyle habits, such as type of diet, physical activity, or smoking. .
Reduce ultra-processed foods to have a healthy and sustainable diet
The researchers also found that a higher intake of ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes in adults in the UK, and higher weight gain in the case of children. Lead study author Dr Eszter Vamos, from Imperial College London School of Public Health, said her study “adds to mounting evidence that ultra-processed foods are likely to have a negative impact on our health, including our cancer risk.”
The study is observationalfor which the researcher points out that she cannot prove causation and more research is needed to confirm her findings “and understand the best public health strategies to reduce the widespread presence and harm of ultra-processed foods in our diet.”
Dr Kiara Chang, first author of the study, from Imperial College London School of Public Health, stressed that “our bodies may not react in the same way to these ultra-processed ingredients and additives as they do to food. fresh and nutritious minimally processed. However, ultra-processed foods are ubiquitous and marketed with cheap prices and attractive packaging to promote consumption, proving that our food environment is in dire need of reform to protect the population from ultra-processed foods”.
The World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations have already recommended limiting the presence of ultra-processed foods to achieve a healthy and sustainable diet, and some countries, such as Brazil, Canada and France, have taken measures to reduce the consumption of these products. Brazil, for example, has banned them from being sold in schools.
Dr. Chang concludes that it is necessary to include in ultra-processed foods labels indicating its components clearly to “help consumers choose”, expand taxes on foods high in unhealthy sugars, salt and fats, and subsidize fresh or minimally processed foods “to ensure that everyone has access to healthy, nutritious and affordable options” .