Ultra-processed foods linked to cancer risk and death, study finds

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In a study from Imperial College London and elsewhere, scientists found that a higher intake of ultra-processed foods may be linked to an increased risk of developing and dying from cancer.

Worldwide diets are increasingly dominated by relatively cheap, highly palatable, and ready-to-eat ultra-processed foods.

Ultra-processed foods most likely have many added ingredients such as sugar, salt, fat, and artificial colors or preservatives.

Ultra-processed foods are made mostly from substances extracted from foods, such as fats, starches, added sugars, and hydrogenated fats. They may also contain additives like artificial colors and flavors or stabilizers.

Examples of these foods are frozen meals, soft drinks, hot dogs and cold cuts, fast food, packaged cookies, cakes, and salty snacks.

However, scientific evidence is limited on cancer development and death in relation to ultra-processed food intake.

In the current study, researchers aimed to examine the associations between ultra-processed food intake and the risk of cancer and associated death for 34 site-specific cancers in British adults.

They used data from almost 200,000 people in the UK Biobank (aged 40–69 years) who completed 24-h dietary recalls between 2009 and 2012 and were followed up until Jan 31, 2021.

Food items consumed were categorized according to their degree of food processing.

The team found the average UPF consumption was 22.9% of the total diet.

During a follow-up time of nearly 10 years, 15,921 people developed cancer and 4009 cancer-related deaths occurred.

The researchers found every 10% increment in ultra-processed food intake was linked to an increased risk of overall and specifically ovarian cancer.

Furthermore, every 10% increase in ultra-processed food intake was linked to increased risks of overall, ovarian, and breast cancer-related deaths.

Based on the findings, the team suggests that higher ultra-processed food intake may be linked to an increased burden and death risk for overall and certain site-specific cancers especially ovarian cancer in women.

The study was conducted by Dr. Eszter Vamos et al and published in eClinicalMedicine.

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