New studies link ultra-processed foods to cancer and early death

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Eating lots of ultra-processed foods significantly increases the risk of colorectal cancer in men 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. fair (31) in the British medical journal “The BMJ”.

Ultra-processed foods include pre-packaged soups, sauces, frozen pizza, ready-to-eat meals, and general pleasurable foods like hot dogs, sausages, French fries, soda, store-bought cookies, cakes, candy, donuts, ice cream, and more.

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“Literally hundreds of studies link ultra-processed foods to obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease and overall mortality,” said Marion Nestle, professor emeritus of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and author of several books on food policy and marketing. food, including “Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)” from 2015.

“These two studies maintain consistency: ultra-processed foods are unequivocally associated with an increased risk of chronic disease,” said Nestle, who was not involved in either study.

A connection to cancer

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

Processed and ultra-processed meats such as ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs, beef jerky and corned beef have been linked to a higher risk of bowel cancer in 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 ultra-processed foods played a role to some degree.

“We found that men in the highest quintile of consumption of ultra-processed foods, compared to 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 nutritional epidemiology and data science at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.

This association remained even after the researchers took into account a person’s body mass index or diet quality.

situation of women

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

“The reasons for such a difference between the sexes are still unknown, but it 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’ ultra-processed foods,” said Robin Mendelsohn, a gastroenterologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York who was not involved in the study.

The research found that having a “higher consumption of ultra-processed dairy products such as yogurt was associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer in women,” Zhang said. “Some ultra-processed foods are healthier, like whole foods that contain little or no added sugar, yogurt, and dairy.”

Women had a higher risk of colorectal cancer if they consumed more ready-to-eat or reheated 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 ready-to-eat seafood products and sugary drinks, Zhang said.

“Americans consume a large percentage of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods – 58% in adults and 67% in children,” he added. “We should consider replacing ultra-processed foods with unprocessed or minimally processed foods in our diet to prevent cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disease.”

A connection to early death

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.

An analysis published in “The BMJ” compared the role of nutrient-poor foods – such as products high in sugar and saturated or trans fats – versus ultra-processed foods in the development of chronic disease and early death. The researchers found that both types of foods independently increased the risk of early death, especially from cardiovascular disease.

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

In fact, more than 80% of foods classified by the guidelines followed in the study as nutritionally unhealthy were also ultra-processed, Bonaccio said in a note.

“This suggests that the increased risk of mortality is not directly due to [ou exclusivamente] the poor nutritional quality of some products, but the fact that these foods are mostly ultra-processed”, added Bonaccio.

Syrup is the main ingredient used in making soft drinks

It’s not real food

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

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

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

In 2019, the US National Institutes of Health published the results of a controlled clinical trial comparing a processed and unprocessed diet. The researchers found that those on the ultra-processed diet ate at a faster rate, and ate 500 more calories a day than people who ate unprocessed foods.

“On average, participants gained 0.9 kg while on the ultra-processed diet and lost an equivalent amount on the unprocessed diet,” the institute noted.

“There’s clearly something about ultra-processed foods that makes people eat more of them without necessarily wanting to or realizing it,” said Nestle.

“The effects of ultra-processed 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 ultra-processed foods in small amounts.”

Source: CNN Brasil

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