We love fresh, whole foods and always encourage you to “eat the rainbow” but if our suggestion hasn’t been enough to sway you to the healthy eating side, perhaps this new study will: people who eat more highly processed foods such as chicken nuggets and instant noodles have a higher risk of cancer. 1
Medicine has recognized for quite some time that eating fresh fruits and veggies lowers the risk of cancer (it also lowers the risk of obesity which is a cause of cancer) but this new study, conducted by a team in France and Brazil, suggests that “ultra-processed foods carry an extra risk of cancer, above and beyond being nutritionally bad for you.”2
The report, published in the British Medical Journal’s online publication, The BMJ, found that people who eat a 10 percent higher proportion of ultra-processed foods in their diet have an increase of greater than 10 percent in risks of overall and breast cancer.
The foods the team identified as adding an extra cancer risk include:3
- mass-produced packaged breads and baked goods
- sodas and sweetened drinks
- instant noodles and soups
- sweet or savory packaged snacks
- industrialized confectionery and desserts
- meatballs, chicken and fish nuggets
- other reconstituted meat products transformed with addition of preservatives other than salt (for example, nitrites)
- frozen or shelf-stable ready meals
- Other food products made mostly or entirely from sugar, oils, and fats
(For those of you who still love cheese, it did not raise cancer risks, nor did pasta or canned vegetables. But consider eating less or no cheese, dairy is a huge inflammation maker in the body.)
The team watched more than 100,000 French adults, who regularly filled out questionnaires about their lives, including details on 3,300 different food items,4 for five years and found that after that time period more than 2,200 cases of cancer had been diagnosed among them. They were, however, quick to point out that their study didn’t show/prove that highly processed foods caused the cancers but rather that people who ate “a lot of junk food have other habits that predispose them to cancer.”5 (I agree but I also know that just the junk food alone is enough to cause systemic problems in the body, of which cancer is one.)
The team also made sure to take smoking habits, sex, education level, family cancer history, and physical activity into account but still saw the link between eating junk food and cancer. (Not the least bit surprised.) And they believe this is because “…ultra-processed foods often have a higher content of total fat, saturated fat, and added sugar and salt, along with a lower fiber and vitamin density.”6
But, processing the food also creates carcinogenic compounds (acrylamide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) AND includes food additives like sodium nitrite or titanium dioxide that animal models studies have shown to be carcinogenic. Lastly, the foods are packaged and we know that chemicals can leach out of the packaging.
Really, it’s almost a guarantee that when you take food with high fat, sugar and salt content, then process the daylights out of it- including the use of unsafe food additives- and then put it into packages that leak chemicals, that cancer is a possibility. What else do you expect?
In 2018 it is not difficult to find information on how to eat healthily; eat more fresh fruit and vegetables, make sure to move your body (there are loads of different exercises you can do), keep a healthy weight, and don’t smoke.