Health Care

Cancer warning over processed foods which make up half of United Kingdom diet

Cancer warning over processed foods which make up half of United Kingdom diet

A study in The BMJ suggests that a 10% increase in the proportion of "ultra-processed" foods in the diet is linked to increases of 12% in the risk of overall cancer and 11% in the risk of breast cancer.

Fizzy drinks, packaged breads and cakes, crisps, sweets, sausages, bacon and ham, instant noodles, and frozen or chilled ready meals were found to be associated with the increased risk.

Eluned Hughes, head of public health and information at Breast Cancer Now, says: "It is hard to distinguish the specific effects of ultra-processed foods - or any particular food group - from those of other diet and lifestyle factors". A team of researchers from Université Sorbonne Paris Cité in France used food surveys over a two-day period to determine the food that almost 105,000 respondents were eating.

"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".

At the start of the study, participants had an average age of 43.

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The popularity of ultra-processed foods has soared in recent decades because they are highly palatable, cheap and widely available.

Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England, said: 'A diet high in processed foods is often high in calories, salt, saturated fat and sugar and low in fibre - this increases the risk of some cancers, as does being overweight or obese. This is particularly worrying since previous studies have found that people are eating more and more processed foods. For example, they can not dismiss some misclassification of foods or guarantee detection of every new cancer case.

The possible association between these foods and cancer was identified in the study, which examined the medical history of more than 100,000 people and was carried out by researchers based in France and Brazil. Consumption of fresh or minimally processed foods - such as fruit, vegetables, pulses, rice, pasta, eggs, meat, fish and milk - was associated with the lowest risks of overall cancer and breast cancer. "By working closely with our partners throughout the food supply chain, we can use processing positively to ensure all sectors of society have access to safe, affordable food". About half of those were in the most common categories: 739 breast cancers, 281 prostate cancers, and 153 colorectal cancers.

They looked at the potential link between these foods and the overall risk of cancer, as well as the specific risk of breast, prostate and colorectal (bowel) cancer. Other possibilities include potentially cancer-causing compounds, such as acrylamide, which are produced during the industrial preparation process, she adds.

However, ultra-processed foods occupy a growing part of the world's diet. Avoiding junk food and maintaining a balanced diet along with regulating the weight, she says, can help in maintaining an overall disease-free lifestyle. "Eat real food and try to limit ultra processed items", Touvier said.