Eating more ultra-processed foods raises the risk of developing and dying from cancer, especially ovarian cancer, according to a new study of over 197,000 people in the United Kingdom, over half of whom were women.
Overly processed foods include prepackaged soups, sauces, frozen pizza and ready-to-eat meals, as well as hot dogs, sausages, french fries, sodas, store-bought cookies, cakes, candies, doughnuts, ice cream and many more. For some people, these are the foods they eat daily.
“Ultra-processed foods are produced with industrially derived ingredients and often use food additives to adjust color, flavor, consistency, texture, or extend shelf life,” said first author Dr. Kiara Chang, a National Institute for Health and Care Research fellow at Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, in a statement.
People who eat more ultra-processed foods also tend to “drink more fizzy drinks and less tea and coffee, as well as less vegetables and other foods associated with a healthy dietary pattern,” said Duane Mellor, a registered dietitian and senior teaching fellow at Aston Medical School in Birmingham, UK.
Risk increased with consumption according to a 10-year study published Tuesday in the journal eClinicalMedicine. Researchers examined information on the eating habits of 197,426 people who were part of the UK Biobank, a large biomedical database and research resource that followed residents from 2006 to 2010.
Each 10% increase in ultra-processed food consumption was associated with a 2% increase in developing any cancer, and a 19% increased risk for being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, according to a statement
“These associations persisted after adjustment for a range of socio-demographic, smoking status, physical activity, and key dietary factors,” the authors wrote.
When it comes to death from cancer among women, ovarian cancer is ranked fifth, “accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system,” noted the American Cancer Society.
“The findings add to previous studies showing an association between a greater proportion of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) in the diet and a higher risk of obesity, heart attacks, stroke, and type 2 diabetes,” said Simon Steenson, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, a charity partially supported by food producers and manufacturers. Steenson was not involved in the new study.
This latest research is not the first to show an association between a high intake of ultra-processed foods and cancer. A 2022 study examined the diets of over 200,000 men and women in the United States for up to 28 years and found a link between ultra-processed foods and colorectal cancer — the third most diagnosed cancer in the United States — in men, but not women.
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