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PROCESSED FOOD & CANCER

 PROCESSED FOOD & CANCER

 Study suggests possible link

February 14, 2018, British Medical Journal
Credit: Maliz Ong/public domain
A study published by The British Medical Journal reports a possible association between intake of highly processed (“ultra-processed”) food in the diet and cancer. Further exploration is needed, but these results suggest that the rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods “may drive an increasing burden of cancer in the next decades,” warn the researchers.

ULTRA-PROCESSED FOODS | PROCESSED FOOD & CANCER

Ultra-processed foods include packaged baked goods and snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, ready meals and reconstituted meat products—often containing high levels of sugar, fat, and salt, but lacking in vitamins and fiber. They are thought to account for up to 50% of total daily energy intake in several developed countries.
A few studies have linked ultra-processed foods to higher risks of obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. But firm evidence linking intake to risk of disease is still scarce. So a team of researchers based in France and Brazil, set out to evaluate potential associations between ultra-processed food intake and risk of overall cancer, as well as that of breast, prostate, and bowel (colorectal) cancers.
PROCESSED FOOD & CANCER
If you don’t know, you are likely eating fake food right now.

STUDY FINDINGS | PROCESSED FOOD & CANCER

Their findings are based on 104,980 healthy French adults (22% men; 78% women) with an average age of 43 years who completed at least two 24-hour online dietary questionnaires, designed to measure usual intake of 3,300 different food items (NutriNet-Santé cohort study). Foods were grouped according to degree of processing and cases of cancer were identified from participants’ declarations validated by medical records and national databases over an average of five years.

10% INCREASE IN CANCER | PROCESSED FOOD & CANCER

PROCESSED FOOD & CANCER

Several well known risk factors for cancer, such as age, sex, educational level, family history of cancer, smoking status and physical activity levels, were taken into account. The results show that a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with increases of 12% in the risk of overall cancer and 11% in the risk of breast cancer. No significant association was found for prostate and colorectal cancers.
Further testing found no significant association between less processed foods (such as canned vegetables, cheeses and freshly made unpackaged bread) and risk of cancer, while consumption of fresh or minimally processed foods (fruits, vegetables, pulses, rice, pasta, eggs, meat, fish and milk) was associated with lower risks of overall cancer and breast cancer.
This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, and the researchers point to some limitations. For example, they cannot rule out some misclassification of foods or guarantee detection of every new cancer case. Nevertheless, the study sample was large and they
were able to adjust for a range of potentially influential factors.
PROCESSED FOOD & CANCER

INCREASED RISK IN BREAST CANCER | PROCESSED FOOD & CANCER

“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,” write the authors.
They stress that further work is needed to better understand the effects of the various stages of processing, but suggest 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.
In a linked editorial, Martin Lajous and Adriana Monge based at the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico, say this study provides “an initial insight into a possible link between ultra processed foods and cancer” but “we are a long way from understanding the full implications of food processing for health and well being.”
They point to several challenges, such as identifying the precise elements in ultra-processed foods that could lead to cancer, and the potential impact of other unmeasured factors on the results.
As such, they conclude: “Care should be taken to transmit the strengths and limitations of this latest analysis to the general public and to increase the public’s understanding of the complexity associated with nutritional research in free living populations.”
More information: Consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer risk: results from NutriNet-Sante? prospective cohort, BMJ (2018). www.bmj.com/content/360/bmj.k322
Editorial: Ultra-processed foods and cancer, BMJ (2018). www.bmj.com/content/360/bmj.k599
Journal reference: British Medical Journal

SUMMARY | PROCESSED FOOD & CANCER

 1. Ultra-processed foods include packaged baked goods and snacks, fizzy drinks, sugary cereals, ready meals and reconstituted meat products—often containing high levels of sugar, fat, and salt, but lacking in vitamins and fiber. They are thought to account for up to 50% of total daily energy intake in several developed countries.
It is critical for the health of the World. We need to challenge the system of eating literally providing untold wealth for the Health System while destroying those that are providing it.
2. Several well known risk factors for cancer, such as age, sex, educational level, family history of cancer, smoking status and physical activity levels, were taken into account. The results show that a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with increases of 12% in the risk of overall cancer and 11% in the risk of breast cancer.
WOW. Just a 10% increase in ultra-processed foods produced and increase of 12% cancer risk. Further a 11% increased rick for breast cancer. Importantly this does consider risk factors separate from the results.
3. Further testing found no significant association between less processed foods (such as canned vegetables, cheeses and freshly made unpackaged bread) and risk of cancer, while consumption of fresh or minimally processed foods (fruits, vegetables, pulses, rice, pasta, eggs, meat, fish and milk) was associated with lower risks of overall cancer and breast cancer.
Bingo. Minimally processed foods was associated with lower risks of overall cancer and breast cancer. So, what happens with whole foods that are not processed? That’s right. It has been proven to heal cancer. Something to think about.

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