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Study suggests link between ultra-processed foods, cancer

AFP / File / JOEL SAGET
Scientists suggest a link between cancer and “ultra-processed” foods such as cookies, fizzy drinks and sugary cereals
Scientists suggested on Thursday a link between cancer and “ultra-processed” foods such as cookies, fizzy drinks, and sugary cereals, though outside experts cautioned against reading too much in the study results. Researchers from France and Brazil used data from nearly 105,000 French adults who completed online questionnaires detailing their intake of 3,300 different food items.
This was compared to cases of cancer diagnosis among the group. “The results show that a 10-percent increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet is associated with increases in the risk of cancer and 11 percent in the risk of breast cancer,” said a press statement from The BMJ which published the research. No significant association was found for prostate or colorectal cancer. Foods on the list included packaged breads, buns, pizzas and cakes, crisps, industrially-produced desserts, sodas, fish and chicken nuggets, instant noodles and soups, and frozen ready meals. Previous research had linked to high blood sugar, fat, and salt to obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, but firm evidence for increased disease risk has been “scarce”, the team said. They stressed their research in a relationship between high-processed foods and cancer. It could be coincidental, and does not conclusively conclude that these types of food actively cause cancer. Ian Johnson, a nutrition researcher from the Quadram Institute Bioscience in England, said the authors identified “some rather weak associations, of low statistical significance.” “The problem is that the definition of ultra-processed foods is so broad and poorly defined that it is impossible to decide exactly what, if any, causal connections have been observed,” he said in comments via the Science Media Center. Tom Sanders of the King’s College London agreed that the term “ultra-processed food” was “difficult to define”. “The definition excludes many home-made or artisanal foods such as bread, cakes, cookies, butter, meat, cheese, tinned fruit and vegetables,” he said. “From a nutritional standpoint, this classification seems arbitrary and based on the premise that food is produced industrially and has a different nutritional and chemical composition than that produced by artisans.

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