Ultra-processed foods are driving up rates of cancer, study finds
Eating processed food significantly raises the risk of cancer, experts have warned.
They said the disease was claiming more lives because of the popularity of ready meals, sugary cereals and fizzy drinks.
The products put middle-aged women in particular danger from breast cancer, according to a study in the British Medical Journal.
“Ultra-processed” food – any product involving an industrial procedure – now makes up half of our diet.
Packed with chemical additives, the foods bear little resemblance to home-cooked meals. And the more of them an individual eats, the higher their risk of cancer of any type.
Experts believe this is because processed foods, which include packaged meat, pies, sweets and crisps, are higher in fat, salt and sugar.
They also have less of the vitamins and fibre that ward off disease.
The procedures used to make the food – and the chemicals and additives used to boost their flavours and shelf life – are also thought to raise the risk. The researchers said it was the first study to highlight a link between ultra-processed food and an increased overall cancer risk.
Campaigners last night said families should heed the warning and read food labels more carefully to check for levels of fat, salt and sugar.
The research was based on food diaries completed by 105,000 adults. It ranked the participants by how much ultra-processed food they consumed over two 24-hour periods. For those in the top quarter of the sample, 32 per cent of their diet came from ultra-processed food.
They were 23 per cent more likely to develop cancer of any type over the next five years than those in the bottom quarter, whose diet was only eight per cent ultra-processed food.
Women in the top quarter were 38 per cent more likely to develop postmenopausal breast cancer. The chance of younger women getting premenopausal breast cancer increased 27 per cent, and bowel cancer risk went up 23 per cent. There was no impact on prostate cancer.
Led by experts at the Sorbonne University in Paris, the researchers said Britons were probably even more at risk because they would consume more ultra-processed food than the French adults in the study.
A study of 19 European countries published earlier this month found 50.7 per cent of food sold in the UK is ultra-processed, compared with 46.2 per cent in Germany, 45.9 per cent in Ireland and 14.2 per cent in France. The team assessed 3,300 different food products as part of the study and classed each by the level of processing they had been subjected to.
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