According to a new study published in the British Medical Journal, there is an link between an increased risk of cancer and “ultra-processed foods.” These foods include sodas, mass-produced bread, instant noodles, candy, and ready meals.
For the study, scientists at the Sorbonne in Paris peered at the medical records and eating habits of over 105,000 middle-aged French people. The data helped them determine that a 10 percent increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in a person’s diet is linked with a 12 percent higher risk of cancer.
The team noted that people who consumed the highest amount of ultra-processed foods were more likely to be smokers, had lower levels of education, were less physically active, and also consumed more calories. As IFLScience reports, the study was looking for a correlation — not a causation. As a result, no foods that specifically cause cancer were listed.
The scientists’ definition of “ultra-processed foods” seems to be fairly loose. Botanist and food expert James Wong addressed this when he tweeted, “That’s the problem with terms like ‘ultra-processed’.” He added that technically, organic superfood protein bars, gluten-free and artisanal bread, and vegan (non-GMO) health shakes are all “ultra-processed.”
What we do know is that the study took into account “the nature, extent, and purpose of the industrial processing.” Foods that fall under this category include packaged breads and buns; sweet or savory packaged snacks; meatballs, poultry, and fish nuggets; industrialized confectionary and desserts; reconstituted meat products; instant noodles and soups; frozen or shelf-stable ready meals.
Tom Sanders, Professor Emeritus of Nutrition and Dietetics at King’s College London, cautioned that because “what people eat is an expression of their lifestyle,” it may be necessary to “rule out what are called confounding factors – things already known to cause cancer such as smoking, obesity, alcohol intake and low intakes of fruit and vegetables.”
“The approach of categorising dietary patterns that depend on industrially processed food in relation to disease risk is novel but probably needs refining before it can be translated into practical dietary advice,” Sanders concluded.
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