Ultra Processed Foods Like Chicken Nuggets Linked To Cancer, Says New Study

Phillip Cunningham
February 16, 2018

A study has suggested a link between diets high in ultra-processed foods and an increased risk of cancer - but academics have warned against over-interpreting the results.

Eating lots of ultra-processed foods like cake and pizza has been linked with a significant rise in Cancer.

Processed foods are now being said to raise the risks of cancer because of higher levels of fat, salt and sugar, along with other additives.

On the other hand, French people who ate slightly less processed foods like canned goods, cheeses, and baguettes didn't tend to report higher instances of cancer.

In part this is because processed foods are also associated with obesity, which has been linked to cancer risks, Linda Bauld, of Cancer Research UK, told the BBC. In this study, researchers defined them as "mass produced packaged breads and buns; sweet or savosamry packaged snacks; industrialised confectionery and desserts; sodas and sweetened drinks; meatballs, poultry and fish nuggets, and other reconstituted meat products".

"Our results suggest that the lower overall nutritional quality of ultra-processed foods is not the only factor involved in this relationship", said lead author Dr. Bernard Srour, of the University of Paris. Packaged foods also include additives like sodium nitrite, which preserves meats but has also been shown to cause cancer in animal models.

It's important to note that these results don't mean processed food is definitively causing cancer - the scientists simply found a worrisome trend in the data. But Tom Sanders, head of the diabetes and nutritional sciences division at King's College London, says that including "mass-produced" in the definition of ultra-processed foods seems arbitrary and unnecessary. Americans get 61% of their calories from highly processed foods.

Also, people who like ultra-processed foods a little bit too much were also more likely to engage in unhealthy habits like smoking and exercising less than their peers not interested in the foods.

Their findings are based on 104,980 healthy French adults (22% men; 78% women) with an average age of 43 years who completed at least two 24-hour online dietary questionnaires, created to measure usual intake of 3,300 different food items (NutriNet-Santé cohort study). They said the study presented several challenges, such as identifying the specific elements in ultra-processed foods that could give you cancer.

Ultra-processed foods already have the reputation of being some of the unhealthiest foods around.

Drinks, sugary products, fats and sauces were most strongly associated with a heightened cancer risk, according to the paper, while sugary processed foods were most strongly linked to breast cancer.

The researchers looked at the diets of almost 105,000 people who answered questions about their diet, weight, physical activity, drug use, smoking status, education and family history.

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