Ultraprocessed foods linked to cancer and early death, studies find | CNN (2023)

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Eating a lot of ultraprocessed foods significantly increases men’s risk of colorectal cancer and can lead to heart disease and early death in both men and women, according to two new, large-scale studies of people in the United States and Italy published Wednesday in British medical journal The BMJ.

Cesar Carroll/EyeEm/Adobe Stock Cognitive decline linked to ultraprocessed food, study finds

Ultraprocessed foods include prepackaged soups, sauces, frozen pizza, ready-to-eat meals and pleasure foods such as hot dogs, sausages, french fries, sodas, store-bought cookies, cakes, candies, doughnuts, ice cream and many more.

“Literally hundreds of studies link ultra-processed foods to obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality,” said Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard professor emerita of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and author of numerous books on food politics and marketing, including 2015’s “Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning).”

(Video) Ultraprocessed foods linked to cancer and early death, studies find

“These two studies continue the consistency: Ultraprocessed foods are unambiguously associated with an increased risk for chronic disease,” said Nestle, who was not involved in either study.

A link to cancer

The US-based study examined the diets of over 200,000 men and women for up to 28 years and found a link between ultraprocessed foods and colorectal cancer – the third most diagnosed cancer in the US – in men, but not women.

Processed and ultraprocessed meats, such as ham, bacon, salami, hotdogs, beef jerkey and corned beef, have long been associated with a higher risk of bowel cancer in both men and women, according to the World Health Organization, American Cancer Society and the American Institute for Cancer Research.

The new study, however, found that all types of ultraprocessed foods played a role to some degree.

Hand opening a frozen pizza Shutterstock Ultra-processed foods now account for two-thirds of calories in the diets of children and teens

“We found that men in the highest quintile of ultraprocessed food consumption, compared those in the lowest quintile, had a 29% higher risk of developing colorectal cancer,” said co-senior author Fang Fang Zhang, a cancer epidemiologist and chair of the division of nutrition epidemiology and data science at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.

That association remained even after researchers took into account a person’s body mass index or dietary quality.

(Video) Ultraprocessed foods linked to cancer and early death, studies find

Why didn’t the new study find the same risk for colorectal cancer in women?

“Reasons for such a sex difference are still unknown, but may involve the different roles that obesity, sex hormones, and metabolic hormones play in men versus women,” Zhang said.

“Alternatively, women may have chosen ‘healthier’ ultraprocessed foods,” said Dr. Robin Mendelsohn, a gastroenterologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, who was not involved in the study.

The study did find that eating a “higher consumption of ultraprocessed dairy foods – such as yogurt – was associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer in women,” Zhang said. “Some ultraprocessed foods are healthier, such as whole-grain foods that contain little or no added sugars, and yogurt and dairy foods.”

Women did have a higher risk for colorectal cancer if they consumed more ready-to-eat-or-heat dishes such as pizza, she said. However, men were more likely to have a higher risk of bowel cancer if they ate a lot of meat, poultry, or seafood-based ready-to-eat products and sugar-sweetened beverages, Zhang said.

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: A photo illustration of a fizzy cola drink on February 16, 2018 in London, England. A recent study by a team at the Sorbonne in Paris has suggested that 'Ultra Processed' foods including things like mass-produced bread, ready meals, instant noodles, fizzy drinks, sweets and crisps are tied to the rise in cancer. (Photo illustration by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images) Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images Children who eat more ultra-processed food gain weight more quickly, study suggests

“Americans consume a large percentage of their daily calories from ultraprocessed foods – 58% in adults and 67% in children,” she added. “We should consider substituting the ultraprocessed foods with unprocessed or minimally processed foods in our diet for cancer prevention and prevention of obesity and cardiovascular diseases.”

(Video) Ultraprocessed foods linked to cancer and early death, studies find - CNN... #shorts

The second study followed more than 22,000 people for a dozen years in the Molise region of Italy. The study, which began in March 2005, was designed to assess risk factors for cancer as well as heart and brain disease.

A link to early death

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - MAY 05: Doughnuts are sold at a Krispy Kreme store on May 05, 2021 in Chicago, Illinois. The doughnut chain reported yesterday that it plans to take the company public again. The company was taken public in 2000 but struggled before being acquired by JAB Holding Company in 2016. (Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images) Scott Olson/Getty Images How processed food drives diet-related diseases

Analysis published in The BMJ compared the role of nutrient-poor foods – such as foods high in sugar and saturated or trans-fats – versus ultraprocessed foods in the development of chronic disease and early death. Researchers found that both types of foods independently increased the risk of an early death, especially from cardiovascular diseases.

However, when researchers compared the two types of food to see which contributed the most, they discovered that ultra-processed foods were “paramount to define the risk of mortality,” said first author Marialaura Bonaccio, an epidemiologist at the department of epidemiology and prevention at the IRCCS Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed of Pozzilli, Italy.

In fact, over 80% of the foods classified by the guidelines followed in the study as nutritionally unhealthy were also ultraprocessed, said Bonaccio in a statement.

“This suggests that the increased risk of mortality is not due directly (or exclusively) to the poor nutritional quality of some products, but rather to the fact that these foods are mostly ultraprocessed,” Bonaccio added.

Not real foods

Why are ultraprocessed foods so bad for us? For one, they are “ready-to-eat-or-heat industrial formulations that are made with ingredients extracted from foods or synthesized in laboratories, with little or no whole foods,” Zhang told CNN.

(Video) Study finds link between processed food and cancer

Shutterstock Choose anti-inflammatory foods to lower heart disease and stroke risk, study says

These overly processed foods are often high in added sugars and salt, low in dietary fiber, and full of chemical additives, such as artificial colors, flavors or stabilizers.

“While some ultraprocessed foods may be considered healthier than others, in general, we would recommend staying away from ultra-processed foods completely and focus on healthy unprocessed foods – fruits, vegetables, legumes,” Mendelsohn said.

In 2019, the National Institute of Health (NIH) published the results of a controlled clinical trial comparing a processed and unprocessed diet. Researchers found those on the ultraprocessed diet ate at a faster rate – and ate an additional 500 calories more per day than people who were eating unprocessed foods.

“On average, participants gained 0.9 kilograms, or 2 pounds while they were on the ultraprocessed diet and lost an equivalent amount on the unprocessed diet,” the NIH noted.

“There is clearly something about ultraprocessed foods that makes people eat more of them without necessarily wanting to or realizing.” said Nestle.

“The effects of ultraprocessed foods are quite clear. The reasons for the effects are not yet known,” Nestle continued. “It would be nice to know why, but until we find out, it’s best to advise eating ultraprocessed foods in as small amounts as possible.”

(Video) Today's HealthNews For You - Ultra-processed Foods Lead to Cancer and Early Death

FAQs

What are examples of Ultraprocessed foods? ›

These foods go through multiple processes (extrusion, molding, milling, etc.), contain many added ingredients and are highly manipulated. Examples are soft drinks, chips, chocolate, candy, ice-cream, sweetened breakfast cereals, packaged soups, chicken nuggets, hotdogs, fries and more.

How can you tell if food is Ultraprocessed? ›

A practical way to identify an ultra-processed product is to check to see if its list of ingredients contains at least one item characteristic of the NOVA ultra-processed food group, which is to say, either food substances never or rarely used in kitchens (such as high-fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated or ...

Is bread an Ultraprocessed food? ›

Examples of ultra-processed foods include ice cream, ham, sausages, crisps, mass-produced bread, breakfast cereals, biscuits, carbonated drinks, fruit-flavoured yogurts, instant soups, and some alcoholic drinks including whisky, gin, and rum.

Is peanut butter Ultraprocessed? ›

As an example, conventional peanut butter sometimes contains a small amount of sugar, salt and hydrogenated oils. Because of the small amount of hydrogenated oils, this peanut butter might be considered ultra-processed.

Is Weetabix an ultra-processed food? ›

Even healthy-sounding cereals such as Shreddies and Weetabix contain malted barley extract which seems innocuous but is not a natural product, says Dr Fardet. It's a mark of ultra-processing and a way of adding sugar without 'sugar' in the ingredients list.

What are the most processed foods to avoid? ›

10 processed food to cut down on
  • 1) Margarine. ...
  • 2) Luncheon meat. ...
  • 3) Vegan meat alternatives. ...
  • 4) Granola bars. ...
  • 5) Instant noodles. ...
  • 6) Cheesy slices. ...
  • 7) Microwave popcorn. ...
  • 8) Shop-bought cakes.
1 Jun 2021

Is canned tuna healthy? ›

Is canned tuna fish good for you? Yes, canned tuna is a healthful food rich in protein and contains many vitamins and minerals such as B-Complex vitamins, Vitamins A and D as well as iron, selenium and phosphorus. Tuna also contains healthy omega 3 essential fatty acids DHA and EPA.

Is bread a UPF? ›

Foods in the UPF category include biscuits, mass-produced buns and breads, sweetened cereals, margarines and spreads, packaged snacks, ice cream, flavoured yogurts, soft drinks, powdered meals, ready-made meals, and instant sauces and stocks.

What are 5 ultra-processed foods? ›

In many households, ultra-processed foods are mainstays at the kitchen table. They include products that you may not even think of as junk food such as breakfast cereals, muffins, snack bars and sweetened yogurts. Soft drinks and energy drinks count, too.

Are canned sardines considered processed food? ›

The fully processed products include canned tuna, salmon, shrimp, crab, sardines, and other fish, fish balls, and so on. The heating process applied to these products is designed to destroy pathogenic bacteria and normal numbers of other organisms.

Is porridge ultra-processed? ›

Plain oats, corn flakes and shredded wheat are minimally processed, but when the manufacturer adds sugar, flavourings or colourings, they become ultra-processed breakfast cereals.

What does ultra-processed food do to the brain? ›

According to a new study, eating ultra-processed foods, such as ice cream, hot dogs, and french fries, for more than 20% of your caloric intake could lead to cognitive decline, especially with regards to memory and executive function–the part of the brain that helps us plan, focus, and make decisions.

Is pasta an Ultraprocessed food? ›

Unprocessed or minimally processed food.

This includes fresh, dried, ground, chilled, frozen, pasteurized or fermented staple foods such as fruits, vegetables, pulses (legumes), rice, pasta, eggs, meat, fish or milk.

Are tinned tomatoes ultra-processed? ›

Ultra-processed food such as soft drinks, chips, ice cream, sausage, packaged bread, flavoured cereals, canned tomatoes and baked beans, ketchup and mayonnaise are low in protein and fibre and heavy in added sugar, fat and salt, pointed out scientists, including those from Lund University in Sweden.

Is yogurt considered a processed food? ›

Fresh bread, cheese and flavoured yogurt are examples of processed foods.

What is the healthiest cereal UK? ›

Porridge is our top choice for a heart healthy breakfast – when it is made with low-fat milk or water and unsweetened. All porridge oats are wholegrains and they all contain a soluble fibre called beta-glucan, which can help lower your cholesterol level if you have 3g or more of it daily, as part of a healthy diet.

Are baked beans healthy? ›

Are baked beans healthy? Baked beans are a source of protein and are high in fibre, so are not a bad choice, especially on wholegrain toast or a jacket potato. But they do contain salt and sugar.

Why bacon is not healthy? ›

Bacon and other smoked, cured and processed meats are usually treated with nitrates or nitrites—chemical added to preserve shelf life and enhance color. Diets high in processed meats have been linked to chronic health conditions including migraines, asthma, heart failure, kidney disease and several types of cancer.

Is Weetabix processed? ›

If blood-sugar control is important to you, then I'd be a bit cautious with Weetabix. On the positive side, yes, it's a high-fiber food made with whole grain. But it's also processed into thin flakes that can be digested more quickly than in-tact grains.

How safe is eating bacon? ›

Bacon is salt-cured meat cut from pig belly. It's unsafe to eat this popular breakfast item raw due to an increased risk of food poisoning. Instead, you should cook bacon thoroughly — but be careful not to overcook it, as doing so can increase the formation of carcinogens.

How many eggs should you eat? ›

The American Heart Association recommends up to one egg a day for most people, fewer for people with high blood cholesterol, especially those with diabetes or who are at risk for heart failure, and up to two eggs a day for older people with normal cholesterol levels and who eat a healthy diet.

Is canned mackerel healthy? ›

Linked to lower blood pressure among males, mackerel is rich in protein and doesn't contain nearly as many calories as chicken or beef. It is also high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, more so than just about any other common fish. Its low risk of overfishing and minimal mercury levels make it an ideal healthy food.

Are canned sardines healthy? ›

Sardines are a type of small, oily fish that contain a lot of important nutrients. Both fresh and canned sardines have health benefits, including helping to fight inflammation and supporting the health of your heart, bones, and immune system.

Are tinned tomatoes UPF? ›

While the definition of processed foods embraces everything from tinned tomatoes to frozen berries (even cooking is actually a form of processing), it's often only those ultra-processed foods (UPF) you need to avoid.
...
Fresh vs processed.
Fresh, real foodProcessed end product
TomatoesTomato puree, paste, soup, sauce
5 more rows
20 Jun 2018

Is pasta a UPF? ›

Pasta, nut butter, and canned vegetables are all examples of this type of processed food. Ultra-processed foods: these products tend to have a long list of ingredients and are pumped full of fillers, preservatives, and additives designed to enhance their flavor, texture, shelf-life, and nutritional profile.

How do you avoid ultra-processed foods UK? ›

Other actions you can take to cut back on ultra-processed foods are:
  1. cooking at home as often as you can.
  2. bringing a packed lunch to school or work.
  3. checking food labels for saturated fat, sodium, and sugar quantity.
  4. snacking on whole foods, rather than pre-packaged snacks.
  5. trying to reduce how much fast food you eat.
12 Jan 2022

Does butter give you energy? ›

Butter consists of long-chain fatty acids that do not increase fat in your body. Also, it is a rich source of iodine. These long-chain fatty acids are assimilated by the small intestine and stored in the liver. It provides instant energy to the body and helps with weight management.

Is hummus an ultra-processed food? ›

Ultra-processed foods are high in added sugar, fat and salt, and low in protein and fiber. They include soft drinks, salty and sugary snacks, ice cream, sausage, deep-fried chicken, yogurt, canned baked beans and tomatoes, ketchup, mayonnaise, packaged guacamole and hummus, packaged breads and flavored cereals.

What meats are not processed? ›

Choose the least processed cuts: Look for "whole" meats, such as chicken breast, steak cuts, pork chops, ground turkey, etc., and avoid packaged meats, such as hot dogs, bologna and sausage. Processed meats tend to be higher in sodium and unhealthy fats.

Is it OK to eat sardines every day? ›

Sardines are high in protein, rich in omega-3 fatty acids (associated with heart health benefits), and filled with certain important vitamins (especially D and B12) and minerals (such as calcium). However, sardines packed in oil are high in sodium and cholesterol, so daily consumption of them is not advisable.

Is cottage cheese clean eating? ›

Cottage Cheese – Technically, it's not clean. *gasp!* (Read the ingredient list). However, for many clean eaters, it is often included in day to day menus because it is such a fantastic source of low fat, non-meat protein.

Is baked ham considered processed meat? ›

Simply put? Yep. “Processed meat” is any meat that's preserved by salting, smoking or curing, or by adding chemical preservatives. That means sausage, bacon, cold cuts like pastrami and salami, hot dogs and, yes, ham.

Is Weetabix actually good for you? ›

Weet-Bix is high in dietary fibre, low in sugar and provides important vitamins and minerals to give you a great start to your day. It is a good source of B vitamins including B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), and B9 (folate), contains magnesium and is high in iron.

Is Weetabix a refined cereal? ›

Weetabix is 100% whole grain, an important factor when deciding whether Weetabix is the best choice for you. Foods made with high levels of whole grain have the potential to help prevent early death, according to a research team at Harvard University.

Are Quaker oats processed food? ›

Used for oatmeal, rolled oats are lightly processed to make them edible. The oat groats (grain kernels) are steamed, flattened, and dried. They still contain all three parts of the grain—the bran, germ, and endosperm—so they retain all of the fiber and other nutrients.

Is ice cream good for the brain? ›

Eating processed foods is hurting your brain, study says. Even '2 cookies' can affect health. Although it's obvious that a diet of hot dogs and ice cream won't lead to a healthy physical life, new research illuminates how ultra-processed foods can also cause a significant decrease in brain function.

Why can't I stop eating processed foods? ›

Processed foods are very addictive because companies do research to see what tickles our taste buds the most. They incorporate it into their foods to encourage us to eat it more. It contains artificial ingredients like preservatives and additives that are not nutritious and are harmful to health.

What are 5 ultra-processed foods? ›

In many households, ultra-processed foods are mainstays at the kitchen table. They include products that you may not even think of as junk food such as breakfast cereals, muffins, snack bars and sweetened yogurts. Soft drinks and energy drinks count, too.

How do you eat less ultra-processed foods? ›

Other actions you can take to cut back on ultra-processed foods are:
  1. cooking at home as often as you can.
  2. bringing a packed lunch to school or work.
  3. checking food labels for saturated fat, sodium, and sugar quantity.
  4. snacking on whole foods, rather than pre-packaged snacks.
  5. trying to reduce how much fast food you eat.
12 Jan 2022

Is porridge ultra-processed? ›

Plain oats, corn flakes and shredded wheat are minimally processed, but when the manufacturer adds sugar, flavourings or colourings, they become ultra-processed breakfast cereals.

Are tinned tomatoes ultra-processed? ›

Ultra-processed food such as soft drinks, chips, ice cream, sausage, packaged bread, flavoured cereals, canned tomatoes and baked beans, ketchup and mayonnaise are low in protein and fibre and heavy in added sugar, fat and salt, pointed out scientists, including those from Lund University in Sweden.

Does butter give you energy? ›

Butter consists of long-chain fatty acids that do not increase fat in your body. Also, it is a rich source of iodine. These long-chain fatty acids are assimilated by the small intestine and stored in the liver. It provides instant energy to the body and helps with weight management.

Are tinned tomatoes UPF? ›

While the definition of processed foods embraces everything from tinned tomatoes to frozen berries (even cooking is actually a form of processing), it's often only those ultra-processed foods (UPF) you need to avoid.
...
Fresh vs processed.
Fresh, real foodProcessed end product
TomatoesTomato puree, paste, soup, sauce
5 more rows
20 Jun 2018

Is wholemeal bread a UPF? ›

ultra-processed foods can include sliced wholemeal bread and vegetable-based pasta sauces which can be a useful part of a healthy, balanced diet.”

Is bread a UPF? ›

Foods in the UPF category include biscuits, mass-produced buns and breads, sweetened cereals, margarines and spreads, packaged snacks, ice cream, flavoured yogurts, soft drinks, powdered meals, ready-made meals, and instant sauces and stocks.

What can I eat for breakfast that is not processed? ›

The 12 Best Foods to Eat in the Morning
  • Eggs. Eggs make a simple, nutritious breakfast choice. ...
  • Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt is a great option if you're looking for a quick breakfast. ...
  • Coffee. Aside from water, coffee is the world's most popular beverage. ...
  • Oatmeal. ...
  • Chia seeds. ...
  • Berries. ...
  • Cottage cheese. ...
  • Whole wheat toast.
27 May 2021

What meat is not processed? ›

Choose the least processed cuts: Look for "whole" meats, such as chicken breast, steak cuts, pork chops, ground turkey, etc., and avoid packaged meats, such as hot dogs, bologna and sausage. Processed meats tend to be higher in sodium and unhealthy fats.

Is hummus an ultra-processed food? ›

Ultra-processed foods are high in added sugar, fat and salt, and low in protein and fiber. They include soft drinks, salty and sugary snacks, ice cream, sausage, deep-fried chicken, yogurt, canned baked beans and tomatoes, ketchup, mayonnaise, packaged guacamole and hummus, packaged breads and flavored cereals.

Which fruit is best for your heart? ›

Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries are jam-packed with important nutrients that play a central role in heart health. Berries are also rich in antioxidants like anthocyanins, which protect against the oxidative stress and inflammation that contribute to the development of heart disease ( 9 ).

What is the healthiest thing to snack on? ›

Tips for Healthy Snacking
  • Fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Frozen fruit.
  • Fruits canned in water or their own juice.
  • Whole grain bread, crackers and cereals.
  • Lower fat yogurt.
  • Lower fat cheese.
  • Unsalted nuts and seeds and their butters.
  • Hummus.
1 Mar 2021

What can I replace potato chips with? ›

6 Better-for-You Alternatives to Chips and Crackers
  • Kale Chips. We're not going to argue that kale chips are an exact replica of the treasured potato chip. ...
  • Mixed Nuts. ...
  • Homemade Sweet Potato Chips. ...
  • Carrot Slices. ...
  • Air-Popped Popcorn. ...
  • Cucumber Slices.
16 Nov 2020

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