Study suggests possible link between highly processed foods and cancer

Study suggests possible link between highly processed foods and cancer

Food and drink suppliers have acknowledged that "more needs to be done" in tackling obesity and diet-related illnesses, but insist processed products "should not be demonised".

It said ultra-processed foods with high levels of sugar, fat and salt were linked to the disease.

Tom Sanders of the King's College London agreed that the term "ultra-processed food" was "difficult to define".

However, most food is processed to several degrees, but ultra-processed foods are typically much more calorie, sugar-packed, and sodium.

No significant associations were found for prostate or colorectal cancer. Association between less processed foods (such as canned vegetables, cheeses and freshly made unpackaged bread) and risk of cancer were also not found to be that prevalent.

"To our knowledge, this study is the first to investigate and highlight an increase in the risk of overall - and specifically breast cancer associated with ultra-processed food intake", said the team led by Bernard Srour from the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (Inserm) in Paris.

Researchers considered other risk factors such as age, gender, levels of education, whether the participant smoked and family history of cancer. They found that if the proportion of ultra-processed foods increased by 10%, the risk of overall cancer increased by 12% - with the risk of breast cancer alone increasing by 11%.

"People shouldn't worry about eating a bit of processed food here and there based on this study".

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(Past research has found that Americans get 61% of their calories from highly processed foods.) In the new study, researchers found that, among nearly 150,000 French adults, a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in a person's diet was correlated with a 12% higher risk of cancer.

A study of 19 European countries by the the University of Sao Paulo recently found that United Kingdom families buy more ultra-processed food than any others in Europe, amounting to 50.7 per cent of the diet.

A study of 19 European countries published earlier this month found 50.7 per cent of food sold in the United Kingdom is ultra-processed, compared with 46.2 per cent in Germany, 45.9 per cent in Ireland and 14.2 per cent in France.

"For the general public, the best approach to minimising the risk of most types of cancer remains to avoid tobacco use of any kind, take account of national diet and alcohol guidelines, eat substantial quantities of fresh fruit and vegetables, and maintain one's body-weight within the recommended range".

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.

The researchers said the study presented several challenges, such as identifying the specific elements in ultra-processed foods that could give you cancer.

Touvier's group intends to take a closer look at the connection between these foods and the heightened cancer risk they appear to cause.

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