Ultra-processed foods include prepackaged soups, sauces, frozen pizzas, ready meals, and pleasure foods such as hot dogs, sausages, French fries, sodas, store-bought cookies, cakes, candies, donuts, ice cream, and more.
“Literally hundreds of studies link ultra-processed foods to obesity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality,” said Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard professor emeritus of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University and author of numerous books on food politics and marketing. , including “Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)” from 2015.
“These two studies continue the consistency: ultra-processed foods are unequivocally associated with an increased risk of chronic disease,” said Nestle, who was not involved in either study.
However, the new study found that all types of ultra-processed foods played a role to some degree.
“We found that men in the highest quintile of ultra-processed food consumption, 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 president of the department of nutritional epidemiology and data science at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.
That association persisted even after researchers took into account a person’s body mass index, or nutritional quality.
Why didn’t the new study find the same colorectal cancer risk in women?
“Reasons for such a sex difference are still unknown, but could be the different roles that obesity, sex hormones and metabolic hormones play in men versus 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 eating “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, such as whole grains that have little or no added sugar, and yogurt and dairy.”
Women did have a higher risk of colorectal cancer if they consumed more ready-to-eat or hot foods like pizza, she said. However, men were more likely to develop colon cancer if they ate a lot of meat, poultry or ready-to-eat seafood and sugar-sweetened drinks, Zhang said.
“Americans consume a large percentage of their daily calories from ultra-processed foods — 58% in adults and 67% in children,” she added. “We should consider replacing ultra-processed foods with unprocessed or minimally processed foods in our diets for cancer prevention and prevention of obesity and cardiovascular disease.”
A link to early death
However, when researchers compared the two foods to see which contributed the most, they found that ultra-processed foods “were paramount in determining risk of mortality,” said first author Marialaura Bonaccio, an epidemiologist in the department of epidemiology and prevention. . at the IRCCS Neurologico Mediterraneo Neuromed of Pozzilli, Italy.
In fact, more than 80% of the foods classified as nutritionally unhealthy according to the guidelines followed in the study were also ultra-processed, Bonaccio said in a statement.
“This suggests that the increased risk of death is not directly (or solely) due to the poor nutritional quality of some products, but rather to the fact that these foods tend to be ultra-processed,” Bonaccio added.
No real food
Why are ultra-processed foods so bad for us? First, they are “ready-to-use industrial formulations made with ingredients extracted from food or synthesized in labs, with little or no whole food,” Zhang told CNN.
These overly processed foods are often high in added sugars and salt, low in dietary fiber and loaded with chemical additives such as artificial colors, flavors or stabilizers.
“While some ultra-processed foods can be considered healthier than others, in general we recommend staying completely away from ultra-processed foods and focusing on healthy whole foods — fruits, vegetables, legumes,” Mendelsohn said.
“There’s clearly something about ultra-processed foods that makes people eat more of them without necessarily wanting 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 eat ultra-processed foods in as small amounts as possible.”