Highly processed foods linked to increased cancer risks

Instant noodles in the plate (Dreamstime/TNS)

Credit: Dreamstime/TNS

Credit: Dreamstime/TNS

Instant noodles in the plate (Dreamstime/TNS)

A diet of fizzy drinks, packaged baked goods, instant noodles, sugary cereals, candy and ready-made meals could raise your cancer risk.

So says a study in the British Medical Journal which has found an association between such “ultra-processed” foods — typically high in sugar, fat and salt but low in nutrition — and increased risk of cancer.

Scientists based in France and Brazil analyzed medical records and eating habits obtained through questionnaires of nearly 105,000 middle-aged French men and women.

Findings suggest that a 10 percent increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in a person’s diet was correlated with a 12 percent higher risk of overall cancer and an 11 percent higher risk of breast cancer. No significant association was found for prostate and colorectal cancers.

Previous studies have linked highly processed foods to raised risks of obesity, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

“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,” the authors noted.

The researchers accounted for known cancer risk factors including age, sex, education level, family history of cancer, smoking status and physical activity levels.

They noted that the subjects who had the highest ultra-processed food intake were also more likely to be smokers, had lower levels of education, were less physically active and consumed more calories.

This is an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, researchers acknowledge. Further study is needed, but these results suggest that the rapidly increasing consumption of ultra-processed foods “may drive an increasing burden of cancer in the next decades,” researchers warn.