Ultra-processed foods are not known for their healthy qualities.
Researchers discovered that people who eat more ultra-processed foods have a higher risk of cancer. Such foods are the ones with unrecognizable and unpronounceable words on the list of ingredients -- anything from the candy that turns your tongue blue to healthier-sounding canned soups packed with artificial flavors, additives or emulsifiers. Most food is processed to some degree, but ultra-processed foods are typically much more calorie-, sodium- and sugar-packed.
What the scientists found was that a 10% increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet was associated with a significant increase of greater than 10% in risks for overall cancer and breast cancer.
"Ultra-processed fats and sauces, sugary products and drinks were associated with an increased risk of overall cancer," the study says. "Ultra-processed sugary products were associated with an increased risk of breast cancer."
"It was quite surprising, the strength of the results. They were really strongly associated, and we did many sensitive analysis and adjusted the findings for many co-factors, and still, the results here were quite concerning," study co-author Mathilde Touvier said.
"What people eat is an expression of their lifestyle in general and may not be causatively linked to the risk of cancer. So it is necessary to rule out what are called cofounding factors," said Tom Sanders, scientific governor of the British Nutrition Foundation and an emeritus professor at King's College London.
For example, she said, people eating more highly processed foods are probably eating fewer healthy foods, which may help prevent cancer. Nutritionists recommend a diet rich in whole grains, whole fruits, and vegetables instead of foods that have little nutritional value.