PROCESSED FOODS RAISE CANCER RISK
Middle-aged women most at risk from fast food and fizzy drinks
EATING processed food significantly raises the risk of cancer, experts warned last night.
They said the disease was claiming more lives because of the popularity of ready-made meals, sugary cereals and fizzy drinks.
The products put middle-aged women in particular danger from breast cancer, according to a study led by experts at the Sorbonne University in Paris.
‘Ultra-processed’ food – any product involving an industrial procedure – now makes up almost half of our diet.
Packed with chemical additives, the foods bear little resemblance to homecooked 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, according to the study published in the British Medical Journal.
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 ultraprocessed food and an increased overall cancer risk.
The research was based on food diaries completed by 105,000 adults. It ranked the participants by how much ultra-processed food they ate over two 24-hour periods. For those in the top quarter of the sample, 32% of their diet came from ultra-processed food.
They were 23% more likely to develop cancer of any type over the next five years than those in the bottom quarter, whose diet was only 8% ultra-processed food. Women in the top quarter were 38% more likely to develop postmenopausal breast cancer. The chance of younger women getting premenopausal breast cancer increased 27%, and bowel cancer risk went up 23%.
There was no impact on prostate cancer.
Led by experts at the Sorbonne University in Paris, the researchers said Irish people were among those at higher risk because they would consume more ultraprocessed food than the French adults in the study.
A study of 19 European countries published earlier this month found that Ireland came third of those at risk, with 45.9% of food sold here being ultra-processed. It found that Britain was worst off with 50.7% and Germany came second with 46.2%. It was just 14.2% 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. Sugary products were the most common form of ultra-processed food, making up 26% of foods in this category. Drinks made up 20% and breakfast cereal 16%.
The researchers wrote: ‘To our knowledge, this study is the first to investigate and highlight an increase in the risk of overall – and specifically breast – cancer associated with ultra-processed food intake. If confirmed in other populations and settings, these results suggest that the rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods may drive an increasing burden of cancer in the next decades.’
They found no cancer link to less processed foods – such as canned vegetables, cheeses and freshly made unpackaged bread. And people who mainly ate fresh and unprocessed foods – such as fruit, vegetables, pulses, meat and fish – had a lower cancer risk. Study leader Dr Mathilde Tourier said the poor nutritional value of ultra-processed food was probably the most important factor in cancer risk.
But she added: ‘They all have food additives, they all have compounds formed during the processing and heating of the products, and they have compounds that could come from the packaging itself. Most of the compounds are probably safe, but some of these substances are of concern regarding cancer risk.’
Ireland third highest risk