Nobody would argue that a diet rife with processed foods is not as healthy as one with more fruits and vegetables but now, it seems, there is yet more proof. Indeed, a new study published in the British Medical Journal has associated packaged foods with increased cancer risk.
Notoriously high in sugar and fat and salt—but, alternately, low in overall nutritional value—processed foods are definitely not what most of us would choose for a healthy diet. Sure, they are convenient—and often delicious, to boot—but we know they are not good for us. Now we have the numbers to prove it.
Well, sort of.
Scientists from Brazil and France analyzed both the medical habits and the eating habits of nearly 105,000 French men and women of middle age. Through questionnaires, they conclude that this eating just 10 percent more ultra-processed foods could result in up to 12 percent higher risk for cancer, overall, and an 11 percent higher risk for breast cancer, specifically.
In the study, the authors comment that past studies have consistently linked highly processed foods with increased obesity, hypertension, and higher cholesterol risk. But this, they say, is the first study to investigate overall risk factor for cancers—and breast cancer, specifically—associated with higher intake of ultra-processed foods.
It is important to note that the researchers did account for various other cancer risk factors when assessing these numbers. These other factors can include things like: age, gender, level of education, family cancer history, smoking status, physical activity levels, and more.
As such, lead study author Mathilde Touvier notes, “It was quite surprising, the strength of the results. They were really strongly associated, and we did many sensitive analysis and adjusted the findings for many co-factors, and still, the results here were quite concerning,” study co-author Mathilde Touvier said.
She goes on to say, “The results are very strong — very consistent and quite compelling. But we have to be cautious. … These results need to be confirmed in other prospective studies. It’s already known that eating a lot of these foods can lead to weight gain, and being overweight or obese can also increase your risk of cancer, so it’s hard to disentangle the effects of diet and weight.”
In addition, British Nutrition Foundation scientific governor Tom Sanders comments, “What people eat is an expression of their lifestyle in general and may not be causatively linked to the risk of cancer. So it is necessary to rule out what are called cofounding factors.”