Ultra-processed foods include prepackaged soups, sauces, frozen pizzas, ready meals, and snack foods such as hot dogs, sausages, French fries, sodas, store-bought cookies, cakes, candy, donuts, ice cream, and more .
“Hundreds of studies link ultra-processed foods to obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality,” says Paulette Goddard, professor emeritus of nutrition, food research and public health at NYU, and author of several books on food politics and marketing, including “Soda Politics: Challenging Big Soda (and Winning)” in 2015.
“The two studies are consistent: ultra-processed foods are clearly associated with an increased risk of chronic disease,” said Nestlé, who was not involved in both studies.
However, the new study found that all types of ultra-processed foods play a role to some extent.
“We found that men in the top quintile of ultra-processed food consumption had a 29 percent higher risk of colorectal cancer compared to those in the bottom quintile,” said co-senior author, cancer epidemiologist and Zhang Fangfang, chairman of the department. PhD in Nutritional Epidemiology and Data Science from the Friedman School of Nutritional Science and Policy, Tufts University, Boston.
The association persisted even after the researchers accounted for a person’s body mass index or diet quality.
Why doesn’t new study find women have the same risk of colorectal cancer?
“The reasons for this sex difference are still unknown, but may involve obesity, the different roles that sex and metabolic hormones play in men and women,” Zhang said.
“Alternatively, women may have opted for ‘healthier’ ultra-processed 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 “consumption of more 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, such as whole grains with little or no added sugar, as well as yogurt and dairy.”
Women do have a higher risk of colorectal cancer if they eat more ready-to-eat or heated dishes, such as pizza, she said. However, Zhang said men had a higher risk of bowel cancer if they consumed large amounts of ready-to-eat meat, poultry or seafood products and sugar-sweetened beverages.
“Americans consume a large percentage of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods — 58 percent for adults and 67 percent for children,” she added. “We should consider replacing ultra-processed foods with unprocessed or minimally processed foods in our diets to prevent cancer, obesity and cardiovascular disease.”
A connection with an early death
However, when the researchers compared the two foods to see which contributed the most, they found that ultra-processed foods were “critical in determining mortality risk,” says first author Marialaura, an epidemiologist in the Department of Epidemiology and Prevention. Bonaccio speaks at the IRCCS Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed in Pozzilli, Italy.
In fact, more than 80 percent of the foods classified as nutritionally unhealthy by the guidelines the study followed are also ultra-processed, Bonaccio said in a statement.
“This suggests that the increased risk of death is not directly (or entirely) due to the poor nutritional quality of certain products, but rather to the fact that most of these foods are ultra-processed,” Bonaccio added.
not real food
Why are ultra-processed foods so bad for us? On the one hand, they are “ready-to-eat or heated industrial formulations made from ingredients extracted from food or synthesized in a laboratory, with little or no natural food,” Zhang told CNN.
These overly processed foods are often high in added sugar and salt, low in dietary fiber, and rich in 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 entirely and focusing on healthy unprocessed foods — fruits, vegetables, legumes,” Mendelsohn said .
“It’s clear that ultra-processed foods will make people eat more without having to think or realize it,” Nestlé said.
“The effects of ultra-processed foods are very clear. The reasons for the effects are not clear,” Nestlé continued. “It’s good to know why, but until we find out, it’s best to recommend eating as little ultra-processed food as possible.”